Monday, June 3, 2019. It’s pouring rain, thunder and lightning with heavy winds blowing through, as I write this Diary at 10:30 at night. The dogs are all sitting next to my chair very nervous, except for the eldest, Ray (age 15), who is sitting (not lying) under my desk.
It had been a beautiful, mainly sunny weekend in New York with temps climbing into the low 80s. The avenue is quiet except for the scores, probably hundreds of neighbors with their children, their partners, their dogs, their bicycles, hightailing it over to Carl Schurz Park and the Promenade by the river.
What always amazes me when I think of it, is the number of neighbors who live along this lane and in the streets leading off of it. Thousands! They’re taking it all in with the dog runs (large and small), the toddlers and the babies are in the recreational section on the swings and the slides. It’s a moment of peace in the big town.
Also gratitude. Last Thursday evening at Sotheby’s, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) held its 13th Annual Connoisseur’s Dinner. It is a black tie affair, held in one of the main galleries. It starts with a cocktail reception in one of the galleries exhibiting the paintings that will be going up for sale in the near future. It’s the best kind of reception because you can spend your time taking in the art, much of which is famous and even familiar but here on the walls.
At close to 8 pm the two hundred guests took the elevators up to the 10th floor gallery for the dinner. The location is important in this dinner because the subject is grim. The room is spacious, beautifully lit, the tables are large enough and there is something relaxed and comforting about it.
It’s the subject. I’ve been a guest at this dinner pretty much from the beginning. The Lauder family is one of the great philanthropic families in New York. The great fortune that provides that philanthropy was created by Estee and her husband Joe Lauder, and carried on by her sons and their wives and now their grandchildren. Great fortunes often lead to great philanthropy for obvious reasons, but the Lauders stand out in my mind because they are very hands on. This kind of generosity comes from the home and not from the bank account.
Estee’s sons Leonard and Ronald Lauder started ADDF twenty years ago. I think it was Ronald who went to his brother with the idea of funding a search for a cure. Their part would be to finance the development, the staffs, the salaries and expenses as well as eventually raising money for research. One of their selling points is that all moneys raised goes directly to the scientists whose research they are funding. This is an important number, often to be as much or even more than 20% just for those operating expenses. At this dinner they raised $2.4 million.
Paula Zahn, who is an ADDF Board member was the mistress of ceremonies. Paula, always looking very movie star glamorous, and not-so-incidentally whose mother has Alzheimers, talked openly and briefly about the loss and the experience of watching the losing.
She then introduced Leonard Lauder, who welcomed guests remarking, “Twenty years ago my brother Ronald and I took on a cause — to end Alzheimer’s. Many thought it was an impossible undertaking — that didn’t stop us. With the right research and right resources, such as the Diagnostics Accelerator, we are hopeful that new, effective treatments for Alzheimer’s will be developed in our lifetimes.”
The evening marked the one-year anniversary of the ADDF’s new research initiative, the Diagnostics Accelerator. Created in spring 2018, the Diagnostics Accelerator was designed to fast-track the development of new tools and biomarker tests for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. The evening also recognized Bill Gates and other prominent philanthropists for funding this program. Gates was not in attendance but spoke to the assembled on a video.
It sounds naïve in these dark and troubling times, but when discussing the progress they’ve made, Leonard reminded us that all human creatures great and small, all races all religions, cultures are vulnerable to this hideous disease of life. He also noted that ADDF’s progress is a testament to Bill Gates as well as Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Dolby family, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration, and all who joined with him to create the Diagnostics Accelerator.
Hearing his words, I am reminded that far from the aggression and the violence and the seemingly infinite and apparently insurmountable problems we have with each other, we are actually capable of greatness and respect to and of each other. That to me is the lesson of the brothers’ voyage.
After Leonard spoke, brother Ronald came to the podium to talk about their progress that is becoming more and more positive. Ronald expressed his gratitude to the core funders of the Diagnostics Acelerator: “This is a defining time in Alzheimer’s research and this initiative is important to develop drugs to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease.”
Again, I was reminded of the Optimism that comes from this ADDF effort. Leonard Lauder and Ronald Lauder both told the guests that they were convinced this project would succeed. I’ve been watching long enough to see that they are succeeding!
Paula Zahn then presented the first four award recipients of the Diagnostics Accelerator. The winners were selected based on their bold ideas for advancing the study of simple blood tests and eye scans for diagnosing Alzheimer’s.
She also introduced special guest Michelle Florin, who paid a heartfelt tribute to her mother Jacki Florin, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 54. She shared excerpts from letters that she wrote to her mother, knowing that she would never be able to read them.
Among the guests (including Board members): Robert Belfer, Carol Seabrook Boulanger, Dr. Roberta Diaz Brinton, Nancy Corzine, Mitch Eichen, Bonnie Pfeifer Evans, Nancy Goodes, Dr. Allan Green, Christopher Johnson, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, Larry Leeds, Phil Lovett, Heidi and Tom McWilliams, Julie Medler, Phebe Farrow Port, Sharon Sager, Randal Sandler, Tom Scanlan, Alice Shure, Stephen Toma, David Weinreb, and Wendy Wilshin Myra Biblowit, Rose Marie Bravo and William Jackey.
Also, Meryl Comer, John Demsey, Ronald Dickerman, Natasha and David Dolby, Mary-Ann and Fabrizio Freda, Susan Gutfreund, Jane Hertzmark Hudis, Eleanora Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Judy Lauder, William Lauder, Donald E. Newhouse, Kelly Ripken, Joan and George Schiele, Barbara and Donald Tober, and George Vradenburg. Inaugural Diagnostics Accelerator grant recipients Kaj Blennow and Hüseyin Firat, MD, PhD, were also in attendance.
Guests viewed highlights of Sotheby’s spring sales during cocktails and enjoyed wine pairings selected by Sotheby’s Wine with dinner. Geraldine Nager, Senior Vice President Sotheby’s New York, then led the “Fund a Scientist” auction, which raised funds for clinical trials for Alzheimer’s.
Founded in 1998, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation is dedicated to rapidly accelerating the discovery of drugs to prevent, treat and cure Alzheimer’s disease. The ADDF is the public charity solely focused on funding the development of drugs for Alzheimer’s, employing a venture philanthropy model to support research in academia and the biotech industry. Through the generosity of its donors, the ADDF has awarded over $115 million to fund more than 590 Alzheimer’s drug discovery programs and clinical trials in 18 countries. And 100% of every donation funds drug research programs. To learn more, visit www.alzdiscovery.org.
Photographs by Patrick McMullan.