The Lady in Red Goes (Ever)Green

Featured image
Lois Pope and Paul Anka, who, with Jay Leno, was the entertainment for this year's (its 30th) Life's Lady in Red Gala.

I didn’t need to ask about the dress code for the Lady in Red gala, on Saint Patrick’s Day. Red and green. Like Christmas in July. Only in March.

It was the 30th anniversary of the gala Lois Pope created for her LIFE philanthropies. She co-chaired with Christine Lynn. Gail Worth and Frank Orenstein were Honorary Chairs. Tova Leidesdorf was Grand Honorary Chair.

Lois Pope and Jay Leno at the 30th Lady in Red Gala.

Lois is the widow of Generoso Pope, founder and publisher of the National Enquirer. After he died, she created the Leaders in Furthering Education (LIFE) and Lois Pope LIFE Foundations. Spearheaded and generously funded by Pope, it lifts the lives of those in need — from disabled veterans to poverty stricken and war torn children to medical research to animals. It donates tens of millions of dollars and changes lives.

I first learned of Lois in 1996, when she gave $10 million to the University of Miami in honor of her friend Christopher Reeve, to establish the Lois Pope LIFE Center for neurological research. There would be a big Palm Beach party to celebrate. The National Enquirer’s Harvard educated editor, Steve Coz, asked me to bring in a celebrity or two.

How did I know him? As Media Director for the Sally Jessy Raphael Show, I had been regularly fielding his calls. There was always a professional tap dance. And I often wondered if they knew more about Sally’s past than I did. Still, Coz was smart and funny. We got a kick out of each other.

And so, Michele Phillips and I met at the Four Seasons Palm Beach to party at Pope’s sprawling home. That night Michele and Lois’ daughter Maria Kessel connected. Year after year, Maria brought Michele to Greenwich to appear at her charity, Dana’s Angels Research. And I would join them for a weekend at Maria’s.

Very proud mother, Lois Pope, with her daughter Maria Kessel.

Today, Maria’s daughter Lois Jr. is married to Michele’s son Austin Hines. My favorite memory of Lois Jr. is that of a sweet and unaffected teen who cleaned out cages in a local shelter and never told them about her family.

I also remember a night when Maria took out a scrapbook of photos of her beautiful mother, speaking glowingly of her.

What does Lois say about Maria? “I frankly just am a very proud mother. But, I let my children lead their own lives,” Pope told me. “I don’t interfere. My mother never told me this is what I want you to do. She led by example.”

Lois’ example? She opens her heart and pocketbook — seven and eight figures at a time. She’s the country’s foremost advocate for veterans, particularly those who are disabled, creating and spearheading the legislation, building, and endowment of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington D.C.

She gave $12 million to Bascom Palmer to create the Lois Pope Center for Retinal & Macular Degeneration Research in Palm Beach Gardens. She’s a storied supporter of the American Humane Society and her own local shelters. She gave generously to help children of war-torn Ukraine and to provide clean water in Guatemala. She was the largest non-Jewish donor to Magen David Adom, buying ambulances days after Israel was attacked. Closer to home, she supports the Palm Beach Symphony, its opera and much more.

How does she pick her causes? “It’s where God leads me,” Lois told me. “The whole objective is to raise people up, so that they can make a good wage, have a good life.

This year’s Lady in Red Gala at The Breakers raised over $2 million.

“I was born during the depression. Not only did we have very little, everyone around us was struggling. But, my mother always kept a tiny bit to give to the poor who came knocking. I saw her sacrifice and do without food to give my brother and me a good breakfast. That never leaves you. That’s why I do what I do.”

And she does it every day. “We’re very small organization,” she told me of LIFE philanthropies. “I run it with three other girls. We do everything and we never stop. This last gala was our most successful. We raised $2 million.” It is earmarked for Lois’ Food4Kids program at the Palm Beach County Food Bank and the Pups4Patriots initiative at American Humane.

L. to r.: Gail Worth and Frank Orenstein. Gail is also a longtime PB Philanthropist; Arlene Herson and event co-chair Christine Lynn.

Ari Rifkin and Grand Honorary Chair Tova Leidesdorf.

They raised it all by just showing guests a great time.

“They say it’s the most fun event of the season,” said Gail Worth, who serves as Honorary Chair with Frank Orenstein. “Lois doesn’t ask for money at the gala, she just presents pure entertainment. This year we had Jay Leno and Paul Anka. Last year we had Rita Rudner and Paul Anka. You walk into the Breakers with the entire Palm Beach symphony playing during cocktail hour. At dinner, Anka works the room like a Las Vegas show. This year, we were so oversold, there wasn’t even room for a dance floor.”

But there was room in the goody bag for something special. Since, the traditional 30th anniversary gift is pearls, Lugano Diamonds and its Co-Founder and CEO Moti Ferder gifted every woman with a long-strand pearl necklace.

Pope should know how it’s done. She started out on Broadway.

Paul Anka.
Jay Leno.

“When I was a young Broadway actress, I was asked to do a benefit at the Rusk Rehabilitation Center in New York,” Lois remembered. “When I walked into that room, what I saw was so horrific, I prayed to God that I would faint. But, I didn’t. Instead, I saw disabled Vietnam veterans in all kinds of misery, some without ears, noses, eyes. Most were in stretchers and couldn’t walk. I had nothing then. But, I vowed that one day if I ever could, I would do something for them.

“Time went on. When they put up the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, I went to Washington to find the name of my first cousin Ricky, whom I loved very much. I stood there and besides me were two Vietnam veterans in wheelchairs. A helicopter went by and they almost fell out of them. My mind went back to that day in the rehabilitation center. I asked to go to the Memorial for Disabled Veterans. There was none. I decided then and there I would create it. And it took me 18 years.

“In life, it’s important not to forget or brush things aside when things get better: remember, remember. And I will never forget my disabled veterans. The sacrifices that they made for this country need to be told and honored.”

Lois went on to endow the American Humane Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs. It gets service and companion dogs for veterans, cares for military hero dogs, reunites military K-9 teams, and more. “If you’ve ever owned a dog you know that’s the best thing in the world,” Lois told me,“what it’s like to love a dog and how it can help a disabled veteran through the day.”

I asked about her pets. “I have lots of dogs, but that’s another story I don’t have time to tell,” she laughed. A $1.5 million endowment created the Lois Pope Pet Clinic at Tri-County Animal Rescue to provide veterinary care for low income family pets. “We don’t want anyone struggling for money to put their dogs down or let them suffer from a disease,” Lois said.

During Covid she donated a million to the Palm Beach County Food Bank to create Lois’ Food4Kids. Then, she started Lois’ Vision4Kids at Bascom Palmer to provide free eye screenings and prescription glasses.

“Believe it or not there are kids here in Palm Beach County who don’t have enough to eat,” she continued. “If children are hungry or can’t see, they can’t learn, can’t read, and can’t get ahead.”

Lois never forgets others and she never forgets the importance of gratitude.

“I’m a very fortunate woman that I can do this,” she says. “Look how lucky I am and how happy. You see, when you do a good deed for somebody else, it all comes back.”

“The Lady in Red Goes Green” was this year’s motto. But, Lois’ story is Evergreen. And that’s a fitting end to my Palm Beach coverage this season and a story I have long wanted to tell.

L. to r.: George Elmore and Marti LaTour; Max Von Anhalt and Entertainment Chair Sunny Sessa. Sunny’s dog Sami graced the Journal cover.
L. to r.: Robin Ganzert and Brian O’Connor; Holly and David Dreman.
Dr. Eduardo Alfonso and Dr. Barth Green.
L. to r.: Lloyd Schiller and Brooke Samples; Amb. David and Sheila Cornstein.
Peter and Simone Bonutti with Moti Ferder and Ron McMackin.
L. to r.: Davis McDuffie and Erika Rizzuto; Arlette Gordon and Gregory D’Elia.
Steve Wynn, Andrea Wynn, and Nelson Peltz.
L. to r.: Caroline Harless and Jim Murphy; Walter and Mary Ann Schwenk.
Suzanne and Richard Youngman, with Nancy Pontius.
L. to r.: Maya Le Troadec and Christiane Ouvier; Suzi and Rick Goldsmith.
Adolfo Zaralegui, Marietta McNulty, and James Borynack.
A long-strand pearl necklace courtesy of Lugano Diamonds’ Moti Ferder was gifted to every woman.

Photographs by Capehart

Recent Posts