Monday, September 9, 2019. Good weather weekend with lots of clouds passing over, with temps in the low 70s by day and 60s by night. The town is back. On my way to a special dinner Saturday night, early evening, Fifth Avenue was heavy traffic, as well as on the sidewalks; leisurely moving along, windowshopping and people watching.
I was on my way to a very special party – the 90th birthday dinner for Daisy Soros. The invitation arrived six or eight weeks ago, and it was on arrival, notice of something special. The invitation itself was something special. I’d never seen anything quite like it. And I’m sure very few others among the guest list had ever seen anything quite like it, also.
On opening, I couldn’t resist a quiet smile. Daisy Soros is one of those people in New York who stands out. I’ve known her for about 25 years, sort of well, although I’m not a close friend. There are many, I’m sure, who feel that way. Because Daisy has a lot of people in her life. You can do that in New York if you have time, interest, and are well organized.
Daisy Soros has a big personality. She likes people, and has a lot of friends. What’s more, she sees a lot of her friends fairly frequently, and even meets new friends along the way. I’ve known her for about 25 years so I came late in her life, so to speak. But it doesn’t matter, because the Daisy I met back then is exactly the same Daisy I saw Saturday night at the Rainbow Room where she was hosting her 90th birthday party. Welcome.
She and her late husband Paul also are/were major philanthropists. Both were Hungarian immigrants who came here as young people, after the Second World War. Among their many charitable ventures, in 1997, they created the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans with a charitable trust of $50 million. It was a program to give back to the country that afford the Soros family such great opportunities. The trust focused on assisting young New Americans at critical points in their educations. In 2010, Daisy and Paul contributed an additional $25 million to the trust.
20 years later, The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans has become one of the most competitive graduate school fellowships in the country. It’s a $90,000 merit-based fellowship exclusively for immigrants and children of immigrants who are pursuing graduate school in the United States. The program draws nearly 1,800 applications annually for just 30 fellowships.
She and Paul have funded lots of public programs that give us pleasure. My favorite is the Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center which they sponsored, and where everybody came out to a big outdoor public dance in the sunset with great musicians. These were more than a gift. They gave us a little shot of community, something missing most of the time in our lives in New York these days.
The invitation for this occasion requested black tie, and women were told to wear white and black. There were more than 250 guests and I didn’t see any woman not in black and white. Except for the birthday girl, our hostess, who was wearing a sunshine red dress designed for her by Ralph Rucci (also a friend, and party guest).
The invitation called for 6:30 cocktails. I went with Joy Ingham (who was celebrating her birthday this past Saturday, too). We arrived on the 65th floor of the Rainbow Room to a reception area jammed with black and white. Although, for me, the first thing you notice when you emerge from the elevator is the spectacular view of New York, Long Island, New Jersey. The city’s skyline, as it is everywhere else, is under construction but the old chestnuts — the Chrysler Building and the majestic Empire State — still give you a thrill.
It took some searching through the chic masses to find our hostess, and when I did, she had just taken a seat next to her beloved dog. It’s not a great shot but it’s a typical expression of Daisy with her face in a smile and her lips asking a question. When I think of face, I think of her smiling eyes and her graciousness in greeting.
At eight o’clock, as the Sun was setting across the land below, it cast a pinkish glow over the metropolis, a perfect overture as the guests began the move into the Rainbow Room. This building went up somewhere in the very early 1930s, so it’s close in age to our hostess. And like our hostess, it’s still in full swing magic. The move into the actual ballroom confirmed it.
Designed by David Monn, it was a kind of breath-taker — all giant white daisies festooning over the room of white and black. Monn is famous in New York for his spectacular interior set designs, as you may have noticed. This one pulled out all the stops. It is almost assured that none of us will never see a private dinner like this again, at least not for a long long time.
Daisy is one for details and I don’t doubt that she oversaw every one of this production; and she surely added a few herself. Everyone was fascinated by the handmade paper centerpieces, each representing a time in Daisy’s life. They were little masterpieces – the kind that draw the eye of the child and the adult, so exact in dimension that I couldn’t help looking at them frequently.
Back to Daisy and the lot of friends. She entertains a lot.
Someone told me she always has house guests. Up in Nantucket and down in Jamaica, there are very often houseguests, and whether there are or not, she still entertains. I was thinking about this because of the age business. At 90 Daisy is still as fresh and on the moment as she was 25 years ago. She really has no age except for the numbers. I don’t say that as a compliment but as an observation and reality. It is curious to me; how she has achieved that. Enthusiastic, indefatigable, she is one making sure to get the most out of her life.
I wondered if it were “the people” that has kept her making the most of things in her life. Of course she has the means to do whatever she wants. And her charities reflect the things that interest her such as the summer dances, and the assisting foreign students in getting American educations, the Philharmonic and Juilliard.
She grew up in Hungary during the Second World War. Her mother was taken by the Nazis and Daisy never saw her again. Her father, who wasn’t Jewish, had put his daughter in a convent school. That saved her, although I once asked her what was the worst thing after the war when the Soviets were running roughshod over the country. Her reply: “the lice! You couldn’t get rid of it! There was no water, you couldn’t wash.”
I was thinking about that last night as the evening progressed. There were her two sons, Peter and Jeffrey – who live in London and in Los Angeles respectively. There was the unique concert of Hershey Felder, the actor, singer, writer, composer who recounted the days in the now long life of this amazing woman, accompanying his message accompanied on the grand piano with concertos and Clare de Lune and several familiar classical musical compositions. This was followed adjoining from the dining room and back to the reception area with the sparkling city surrounding below. It was an incredible evening and with best wishes and many thanks to our hostess, the birthday girl!
Meanwhile, bright and early this past Sunday morning on Central Park West, our intrepid photojournalist Paige Peterson spotted a “parade” of pink marching/walking on the road below. It was the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure 2019 — where teams of pink walk (with some running) to honor survivors, remember loved ones lost and participate in a spirited annual breast cancer race to help end this disease forever.