Thursday, September 12, 2019. Very warm, yesterday in New York, with lots of sunshine and humidity levels to match. But it still feels like Autumn is coming along, dropping to the 70s by mid-evening with rains in the forecast.
Billionaire David Koch died at little more than two weeks ago on August 23. I first met him in the mid-’90s when he was already a famous man-about-town, and had been since the 1980s. He was always known for his wealth, especially being unmarried and therefore eligible.
He was always courteous with me. It was a perfunctory kind of courtesy; a gentleman’s conduct. Being essential “media” I’m often in the company of those who prefer to keep it at arms length which agreeable to me. He was a tall man, 6’5”.
Because of his wealth, early on I was filled in with the sundry relationships he had with certain well known social women in town. He was very high on the eligibility list. The references to his wealth put him in the top category of eligibility, so his marital future was often speculated on by those who keep abreast of such things.
The man I saw on my social travels was one who was used to keeping his own counsel and always pleasant but quietly stiff. He had a very loud laugh that sounded like a combination of a large hiccup and a flat chortle. You had to be there. But when you heard it, you knew David Koch was in the room.
I later learned more about his background growing up in Wichita, Kansas, one of four sons of a very successful businessman in the oil business. He left Wichita to go to Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts and then on to M.I.T.
M.I.T. to this observer has always had the reputation for very smart (and serious) students. It was there that he became well known among his contemporaries as a great basketball player. His “Eastern” education obviously had a profound effect: he lived his rest of his life in the Northeast and Palm Beach.
Over the years as I saw him fairly frequently at social fundraising galas and in the late ’90s I was a guest at his annual “end of summer” party at his house on Meadow Lane in Southampton. There would be hundreds of guests, all outdoors on the terrace with a buffet under a tent and a live band. It was a wonderful relaxing party. The women dressed for it and the men often wore blazers. He invited a cross-section of Southampton age-wise from the older (and old) social lions to the young social hipsters.
There I could see he liked being “one of the guys” and there were not a few fashion models gracing our company. The evening would always end with a spectacular fireworks program produced by Grucci and often said to cost a million bucks. It looked the part.
The last party of his that I attended was in 1997 and it was coincidentally the night that Princess Diana died in the automobile crash in Paris. The first announcements came a couple of hours before the party which was called for 8 pm. So guests arrived at the Koch residence waiting to hear the outcome (did she survive). When the news came about 9 o’clock, with all guests in attendance, it threw a pall over the evening. It would not be a night for celebrating.
Somewhere in the mid-90s, he starting seeing a young fashion model, Julia Flesher, a young American beauty who came to the big town from Arkansas, and was the model for the couturier Adolfo. Julia was the perfect consort. Her presence flattered him, and she followed. You could see that her early role with the man was that of student. He was older and wiser and treated thusly. They dated long enough that spectators wondered if Julia were the one. The marriage came quickly but at the time many thought David was a confirmed bachelor. He was already in his fifties and had avoided matrimony.
So when he married Julia, it wasn’t a surprise but it was a change. He bought the Jackie Onassis apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue, renovated it and set up a household. Soon after, Julia became pregnant with the first of three children, a son named after his father. Later on David moved his family over to 740 Park – where coincidentally Jackie Onassis had lived as a child.
Although he was throttled (although never ridiculed) in the media because of his political ideas and associations, it had no effect on his standing in New York where he served on several of the major boards and gave many millions to Lincoln Center, to the Met, to New York Hospital and many other institutions. I rarely saw him except at the ballet. His right-wing reputation was muted by his philanthropy and by his social behavior. The Kochs lived here, in Southampton and Palm Beach and had an active social life among families and friends.
Doing some research on David, I came upon an excerpt in Mother Jones of “Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty” by Daniel Schulman, and everything was spelled out. David’s story, his life, his personality is the story of an American family, mid-20th century, in Wichita, four boys, driven and ambitious (and highly successful) father, an agreeable mate and mother.
David and his fraternal twin Bill were the youngest for the four boys. It all began there, and as it often is especially in families of great wealth, it all ends there. He was born into the post-Depression generation in America where it was about The Rules of Behavior and Hard Work, and if you’re lucky – which would also be seen as brilliant – you made a lot of money. And, money changes everything. Including one’s point of view of the world.
And so it was.
Among David Koch’s favorite was the ballet, which he donated generously to and which he and his wife Julia followed loyally. No doubt he would have appreciated the event that occurred this past weekend near Lincoln Center where 306 ballet dancers broke the Guinness Book of World Records for standing en Pointe for one minute. And Paige Peterson was there with her camera taking it all in.
This included Kelly Ripa standing on pointe shoes with dancers from all over the East Coast. Participants started arriving at 5:15 a.m. for a 9:45-live on Kelly and Ryan. ABT’s Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside initiated the idea to break the record. NYC Ballet Principal dancers Maria Kowroski, Tiler Peck and Lauren Lovette helped lead the triumph.
Paige’s niece Heidi and her daughter Brianna Geist (age 13) came from Philadelphia to participate in the event. It began with a downpour of rain. Hence the dancers in plastic rain gear. Dancers used ponchos, bags and umbrellas to keep their pointe shoes dry. The rain stopped just in time for the world record to be broken.