Palm Beach in the Wake of Covid and George Floyd

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The town of Palm Beach on Flag Day.

I first started writing this back in March when our white privileged lives were pretty darn good. My husband, George Ledes, and I had enjoyed the holidays traveling back and forth from New York to Palm Beach. We attended Wendy Carduner’s famous Christmas luncheons at Doubles, the Annual Egg Nog Party at the Bedford Golf & Tennis Club, holiday drinks at the Yale Club, then hopped on good old Jet Blue for a little sunshine in Palm Beach.

Whitney Schott, Hadley Nagel and Wendy Carduner at the Après Ski Party at Doubles (Photo by Annie Watt)

We attended Christmas Eve service at Bethesda-by-the-Sea — without President Trump in his usual pew this year; dined out with friends at Sant Ambroeus, the Palm Beach Grill, Bricktops and so many other wonderful restaurants here (usually ending with a nightcap at Imoto).

We were invited to the French Heritage Society Gala at Club Colette, Amy Hoadley’s Galentine’s Luncheon at The Colony Hotel, The Lighthouse Guild’s dinner honoring philanthropists Audrey and Martin Gruss. And finally Missy Hargraves, Katie Carpenter and I co-hosted a screening of Robin Leacock’s PBS Film A Passion for Giving at La Coquille Club on March 12th — which may have been the last party in Palm Beach before everything shut down due to Covid.

Lighthouse Guild Honoree Audrey Gruss with friends Scott Snyder and Tom Quick.
Amy Hoadley and Lisa Selby at their Annual Galentine’s Day Luncheon at The Colony Hotel.
French Heritage Society Co-chair Jean Shafiroff, Cece Black and Elizabeth Stribling at Club Colette.

Since then, things have been very different. The first sign was Robert Caravaggi calling to tell us our reservation for dinner at Swifty’s had been moved to an outside table by the pool. Then, the pool was closed, and so was Swifty’s. My husband’s business turned from luxury fragrance and cosmetics to hand sanitizer.

George Ledes, Martha Stewart, Jacques Christophe Branellec of Jewelmer, Leonard Lauren, and Lisbeth Barron at Pre-Covid Swifty’s Palm Beach.
The beginning of social distancing at Swifty’s (outside) at The Colony Hotel.

On March 19th, our pal Lily Holt Dillon called and asked for our help in spreading the word about her Farm-to-Family collaboration between Margaret Duriez’s Fresh Rx and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County in an effort to help feed children who had no access to food due to the now global Covid crisis.

Photo courtesy of Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County.
Fresh organic produce from Lox Farms/Fresh Rx.

We spoke to friends in New York and it was clear we were at least a month behind them. Sharon Bush and I would take our daily walks on the beach saying how grateful we were to have this opportunity while our friends and family in New York were urging us to #stayhome. Finally, the beaches, too, were closed.

Sharon Bush in Palm Beach.
The beach — CLOSED.

Zoom calls ensued and we learned from friends and family in London that Wimbledon had been canceled for the first time in 75 years (since WWII)!

Then all community/club pools, tennis courts and golf courses were closed in Palm Beach, too.

The pool — CLOSED.
Tim Moran, co-founder of the Palm Beach Police and Fire Foundation, and Tony Chateauvert, Director of the Town of Palm Beach Par 3 Golf Course, which became a face mask distribution center.

We gathered for dinner with our neighbors, Kirsten and Averell Fisk, and Averell made a toast saying something to the effect of, “This Covid thing is real and we must be careful. The odds are that one of us could die, but we can’t stop living.” Those words rang true.

Kirsten Fisk.

As cancer survivors, my husband and I have always chosen to live life to the fullest, even when faced with the possibility of death. So we vowed to “carry on” through this together. George always says, “we are blessed by our friends,” and that has never been more apparent.

Re-purposed Lilly Pulitzer and gingham fabric masks made by Raquel Williams of Palm Beach.
Raquel Williams — The Singing Seamstress — who has performed at many events in Palm Beach, has pivoted to sewing sustainable face masks during the pandemic. Follow her @singingseamstress4u

Since March, so much has changed. Our world is emerging as a different place — even here in Palm Beach. Faced, not only with the pandemic, but the brutal death of a man named George Floyd by someone in a position of trust and authority, we have collectively experienced isolation, anger, hostility, loss, prejudice, greed, deprivation, brutality, and many others things we have never faced before.

In these three short months, I, myself, have had to plan my own mother’s funeral as she languishes in a nursing home in NYC, and then learned that the father of one of our colleagues, Walter Harvin, was also subject to police brutality after serving our country in the Iraq War — something Walter, Jr. had never shared with us before. Simply, heartbreaking and surreal. By stopping to listen and learn, hopefully, we will emerge as better people. Hopefully, there is a silver lining to all of this. Hope is so important now, as are Equality, Inclusivity and Respect.

Fashion, Wellness & Beauty Expert Ann Caruso, Fashion & Youth Culture Influencer Walter Harvin, and Emmy-winning TV host, author and Palm Beach resident Daphne Oz speaking at an event at Doubles.

What I have personally learned is that “privilege isn’t about what you’ve gone through, it’s about what you haven’t had to go through,” to quote Janaya ‘Future’ Khan, International Ambassador at Black Lives Matter. We who live in Palm Beach need to think about this, and we do. We are privileged to live here and fortunate to be in a position to give and support. And so many of us are. It is good to see.

On May 20th, George and I attended out first virtual fundraiser for BCRF — the Breast Cancer Research Foundation — at the invitation of our dear friends, William Lauder and Lori Kanter Tritsch. The event, which we zoomed in on, raised more than $5.2 million dollars. How inspiring!

Lori Kanter Tritsch and William Lauder, Executive Chairman, The Estée Lauder Companies, zooming in from home in NYC.
BCRF’s Virtual Hot Pink Party.

On June 2nd, we were also inspired by a 48-year resident named Leta Austin Foster, an 80-year-old interior designer and grandmother, who like “the mouse that roared,” showed up at Town Hall to protest the killing of George Floyd. Police had sent out an email alert asking residents to stay home as word got out that protesters might venture into town. Stores were boarded-up on Worth Avenue. Businesses closed early. A curfew was set for 7 p.m.

Swifty’s Palm Beach at The Colony Hotel boarded up in preparation for the protests.
Hermes Palm Beach boarded up.

The demonstration that concerned police never materialized, but the alert triggered an unintended result … Leta showed up! When asked why, she said, because it was important to show people that she had “no hatred in her heart.” That is the essence of Palm Beach.

Palm Beach’s Leta Austin Foster (Photo by Meghan McCarthy/Palm Beach Daily News)

It is now Juneteenth, and as we reflect and learn, restaurants and stores have opened-up, along with tennis courts, pools, golf courses and beaches, but we remain cautious. Some of us are dining outside and golfing with close friends, while others of us remain isolated.

Annabella and Melinda Rockwell join Whitney Schott for lunch outside at Sant Ambroeus Palm Beach.
Bill Ford and George Ledes chat with Tony Chateauvert before heading out in their respective carts for a socially distanced round of golf.
Pals Anne Fitzpatrick and Averell Fisk get some added exercise by choosing to walk and pull their clubs.

Like Dr. Michael Salzhauer — who administers drive-thru botox injections in Miami — here in Palm Beach, Dr. Natalie Geary has been wonderful about arranging zoom check-ups, and making house calls when necessary to administer antibody tests — if even from the back of her car!

Dr. Natalie Geary and her wonderful daughters Follow her

These are a just a few of the wonderful things emerging at this time. I look forward to reporting on more in the coming weeks …

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