Still can’t get those hats outta my head

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Under the tent in the Conservatory Garden for Central Park Conservancy's 41st annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon.

Monday, May 8, 2023. Yesterday in New York, we got our wishes: mid-afternoon it was 76 degrees with a “Real Feel” of 87!! Although it didn’t feel muggy — which is usually what you can expect with that number around New York.

The past week was an active one and, a calendar-full. It’s still crowding my memory. It began with the annual Women’s Committee of Central Park luncheon, a/k/a the Hat Luncheon. I like covering it because besides being a fundraiser (for the upkeep of the Park), it has the overriding element to amuse: The Hats. 

It’s not that I’ve got an obsession with women’s hats — which I don’t — but it’s watching the women who have made it fun with the hats. It’s a notably friendly atmosphere; basically an event luncheon where a lot of women doll themselves up — with a lot of hats — but something they’ve dreamed themselves. It’s all simply more fun. Something to look at that provides the sheer joy of being amused.

Betsy Smith, President & CEO of the Central Park Conservancy (third from right), with luncheon Co-Chairs Kathryn Beal, Suzy Welch, Amy Miller Madry, Melanie McLennan, and Kristy Korngold.

It reminds of when little girls occasionally liked to play dress up in their mothers’ hats or coats (furs) or shoes. Except now the little girls have grown up, even quite mature women, and that delight has been restored. They’re still enjoying dressing up, but with signature touch of their own imagination. So it’s fun, even funny. Over the decades the hats have attracted bigger and bigger crowds. This year the number attending was around 1400. 

It was definitely a record number of guests, and the vibe was definitely up. There was even a table of 10 women who came up from Nashville, Tennessee. Readers of the NYSD, they had seen our online coverage over the years and decided to take a table — in their hats. They loved it. Next year, I’m told, it’s going to be more than just one table.

The Nashville contingent (counter clockwise from top right): Sylvia Bradbury, Sarah Reisner, Amy Hobbs, Melanie Baker, Tori Wimberly, Dana Atkins, Kim Pitts, and Janice Elliott Morgan.
DPC sneaks in next to team leader LaRawn Scaife Rhea (in glasses). Chanel might have ruled the day with the most handbags of the bunch, but Valentino and Oscar were the most prevalent designers. And the hats?! The majority came from Gus Mayer Nashville, many of which were created by Christine Moore, who is the official milliner for not just the Derby but the entire Triple Crown … as well as next week’s Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase!

The luncheon is held in a massive tent set up in one of the Park’s special gardens (Conservatory Garden) on 104th Street and Fifth Avenue. It was very cool that morning.  However it warmed up just enough that everyone was comfortable. This year raised more than $4 million, which is astounding when you think of it. And that $4 million goes into keeping the Park in top shape and growing. For all of us.

The work of the Women’s Committee began in the ’80s when the Park was a mess — run down, in great disrepair after decades of constant use accompanied by decades of wear and tear (no funds for upkeep). That sounds incredible today, because those five women back in 1980 who put it all together provided a natural solution. And, their work has inspired many others to help including men and women of philanthropy. A few years ago, John Paulsen, the billionaire hedge fund manager, committed $100 million.

Tom Kempner, Jenny Price, Betsy Smith, Barry Wolf, honoree Yesim Philip, honoree Sara Cedar Miller, Eoghan Keenan, and Sue Donoghue. The 2023 honorees also included Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP. The presenting sponsor was Harry Winston, Inc., JP Morgan Chase & Co, the Corporate Sponsor, and the Premier Sponsor, St. John.

Now, New Yorkers think of their Park as pristine, as if it had always been so. Uh-uh. What we are witnessing is an example What’s Possible, when people decide to get together to make a better world for all of us.

Another wonder that deserves mention about the Hat Lunch was the service — a virtual corps of waiters. Perfectly organized in handling, directing, and serving a crowd all at once, with three different courses.

L. to r.: Jessica Lee; Daisy Olarte de Kanavos.
Talene Baroyan, Alexa Scanlon, Caroline Bouckaert, and Natalia Torres.
Lorena Perozo and Tatiana Teo.
L. to r.: Rebecca Vanyo; Mandy Spears Volpe.
Suzy Buckley Woodward, Carol Iacovelli, and Alexa Wolman.
Melissa Press, Jen DeJongh, and Kristy Korngold.
Meghan Klopp, Janna Bullock, and Karen Klopp.
Rena Turner, Heidi Salgo, and Christina Deaton.
Jennifer Worthington.
Irene Gandy, Stewart Lane, and Bonnie Comley.

Ali Larter, Mariska Hargitay, and Ashley McDermott.
Savanna Stevens.
Fe Fendi, Elyse Newhouse, Enrica Arengi Bentivoglio, and Alexandra Lebenthal.
Patti Harris and Amelia Ogunlesi.
Karen Lorraine, Mona Aboelnaga Kanaan, Tina Storper, Blair Clarke, Ashley McDermott, Liz Cohen Hausman, Cristina Cuomo, and Renee Rockefeller.
Martha Stewart and Susan Magrino Dunning.
Lu-Shawn Thompson, Tricia Lee, and Tiffany Gardner.
Amelia Ogunlesi and Carol Sutton Lewis.
Somers Farkas, Crystal McCrary McGuire, and Anne Stringfield.
Suzanne Cochran and Marcia Mishaan.
Stellene Volandes, Andy Lew, Lynn Martin, Sharon Mintie, and Jessica Lee.
Lela Rose, Gillian Miniter, Muffie Potter Aston, Mara Siegler, Eddie Roche, Serena Miniter, and Di Mondo.
Michael Bloomberg, Betsy Smith, and Tom Kempner.
Misty Copeland, Claire Lea-Howart, Judy Hart Angelo, and Jennifer Gefsky.
Betsy Messerschmitt, Regina Peruggi, Judith Churchill, Melanie Forman, and Eleisa Coster.
Robin Bell-Stevens, Margaret Smith, Sonya Coster, and Lois McLaughlin.
Giovanna Randall, Marsh Laufer, Kathleen McDonough, Abby Healy, Peggy Tirschwell, Joi Garner, Brigid Najarian, and Donna Daniels.

Photographs by Sean Zanni/PMC & Rob Rich/

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