Big Brain Gains at Rita Hayworth Alzheimer’s Fete

by Michael Gross Photographed by Angela Pham/
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

“Uh-oh,” said a fellow who shall remain nameless, seated with Robin Meltzer, one of the co-chairs of last night’s progress-themed Rita Hayworth Gala, Avenue A-Lister Princess Yasmin Aga Khan‘s long-running benefit for the Alzheimer’s Association. He’d just heard a speaker enjoin guests to “eat a healthy diet,” as one way to avoid contracting the thusfar un-treatable and incurable disease that’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Making the evening that much more urgent, the number of new Alzheimer’s cases is predicted to triple in years to come as the Baby Boom generation reaches senior citizenship. That boomer-aged fellow promptly dropped his coiled Cipriani roll beside his dinner plate, where it remained for the rest of the evening.

Alzheimer’s victims are not alone. Khan first hosted the gala 34 years ago to honor her mother, the great Hollywood star and actress Rita Hayworth, who’d suffered and died from the disease. Introduced by M.C. Willie Geist, the television personality, she told the crowd it has thusfar raised $73 million, “and we’re not finished yet,” she said. Last night’s festivities had already increased that total by $2 million, and a silent auction featuring tasty item like dinner for four at Le Bernardin was still ongoing.

“Many people in this room are or have been caretakers,” Meltzer said in her remarks. “Trust me, its not a job you want to have.” Among them were auctioneer Robert Verdi, presenter Tim Gunn and Champion Award recipient Nina Garcia, the former, a noted fashion stylist, the latter two most famous for their lead roles in the now-infamous Project Runway. In the vast dining room of Cipriani 42nd Street, all three spoke movingly of their personal ordeals, Garcia with her mother, and Gunn with his father, whose decline, Gunn said, defined “the most emotionally wrecking years of my life.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the vast, purple-lit room until Geist managed the neat trick of making the crowd smile again after those painful reminiscences by pointing out that all three featured speakers–one more important than the next in the fashion world–had caused him to worry, “Did I wear the right pocket square?”

Among those giving and grateful for Geist’s comic relief: co-chairs Karyn Kornfeld and Daryl Simon, Anne Hearst and Jay McInerney, Somers and Jonathan Farkas, Liliana Cavendish and Hunt Slonem, Cornelia Sharpe Bregman, Ellen Deutsch, Hilary Dick, Richard and Chele Chiavacci Farley, Louie Kornfeld, Sharon Bush and Bob Murray, Diandra Douglas, Muffie and Sherrill Aston, Naeem Khan, Nikki Haskell, Joseph Trapani, John, Margot and Andrea Catsimatidis, Robert Zimmerman with AVENUE’s Debbie Bancroft, Lauren Day Roberts, Peter Thomas Roth, Janna Bullock, Robert Ruffino, and Bonnie Pfeifer Evans.


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