Thursday, February 22, 2007

Denise Rich

The first time I ever heard about Denise Rich was a number of years ago at Christmastime. It was in reference to a holiday party she gave at her triplex penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. She had had the terraces surrounding her apartment flooded for the event, and hired professional figure skaters to dance around on the ice for the benefit of the hundreds of guests who were cozy and toasty inside looking out. It was one of those moments where the most sophisticated New Yorkers were momentarily astonished. Knowing her as I do now, I would guess she was inspired to stage a deeply nostalgic re-creation of one of those moments of winters of her own growing up in central Massachusetts where snow and ice-skaters dominated the landscape.

At that point in her social history, Denise Rich was the very wealthy ex-wife of Marc Rich, the Swiss financier who was living in Switzerland, a fugitive from the American Internal Revenue laws. It was assumed around New York that her lavish lifestyle was made possible by her divorce settlement. It was not generally known that she herself was an heiress of a New England shoe manufacturer whose fortune initially launched ex-husband Rich.

Today the world knows Denise Rich as a player in the politics at the end of the second Administration of President Clinton whose pardoning of Marc Rich wreaked fresh havoc on the reputation of his constantly threatened Presidency. Denise Rich evidently played a role in that pardon, whatever that might have been. There have been several explanations why, one of which is most plausible – that he was the father of her daughters – although none was defining.

Her life outside the limelight and the tabloidal notoriety that comes with the territory is far simpler and more focused. She is a songwriter by trade, consumed, as many artists often are, by her creative interests. True or not, someone told me that in her enormous apartment there is a fully equipped recording studio. There is certainly room for it.

Her other abiding interest is the G&P Foundation For Cancer Research. The foundation is the child born of her grief and mourning of the death of her daughter Gabrielle Rich Aouad who passed away at age 27 after a long and valiant struggled against AML Leukemia. Named for Gabrielle and her husband Philip, the foundation was the last wish of the daughter who fought through months of painful treatment undaunted and unbowed. It was Gabrielle’s hope that the foundation would fund research that would spare others the suffering she endured.

The G&P Foundation, under the guidance of Denise now stages two major fundraisers a year. The big one in the wintertime hosts about a thousand guests annually at the Marriott on Broadway in the city’s biggest hotel ballroom. It draws figures from the world of Wall Street, Washington and Hollywood and raises several million for the cause.

Denise is a familiar figure on the New York social scene these days and a fairly frequent hostess at cocktail parties and fundraisers in her apartment. For all her wealth and prominence, there’s still a strong hint of the girl next door (at least if you grew up in New England), enthusiastic, energetic, the kind of girl who probably as a teen-ager had a singing group a la the Shirelles or the Ronettes and was reared with an emphasis on family, friends, career, and a good time; in that order.

In reality, she’s also an economic force. The success of the G&P Foundation, among other things, is witness to that. And despite her show-biz razzle-dazzle, which clearly appeals to her, she wears her largesse and her big life all with a kind of modesty that can lead one to conclude that above all, she’s a good friend and mother.