News | Celebration of Reading raised $2.5 million at star-studded soiree
May 01, 2015
By Amber Elliott | Houston Chronicle
Although there was no mayoral proclamation, April 23 was irrefutably "A Celebration of Reading" Day in Houston. Terri and John Havens opened their majestic Louis XV-style chateau to host an intimate group of Bush family members and friends for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation's Authors' Luncheon. Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, ABC News anchor Byron Pitts and best-selling author Jackie Collins mingled with the foundation's distinguished donors and partners while some of the other 40 patrons took advantage of the sunshine and the opportunity to explore the property that backs up to Buffalo Bayou; several made a beeline for the Haven's 18th-century chapel.
After a round of portraits, guests sat for the casual Texas feast prepared by Jackson and Company. Seafood martinis, barbecue chicken and Jackson Hicks'famous strawberry shortcake (taken from his mother's recipe) were served before Pitts stood to share his story.
When he was 12, school administrators told Pitts' mother that he was mentally challenged and should be institutionalized until adulthood; the former "60 Minutes" correspondent beat both illiteracy and adversity to reach his dream of becoming a journalist; the entire journey is chronicled in his 2009 memoir, "Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges."
"You may not immediately see the impact of the millions of people that literacy programs affect, but reading saves lives," he said to the teary-eyed crowd. "It's easier to teach and uplift a boy than it is to heal a man."
Delightful parting gifts of Lauren Bush Lauren's FEED wine tote - each bag provided five school meals to deserving children in need - stocked with bottles of red wine from Cal-a-Vie shifted the mood as the crowd dispersed.
Mere hours later, the group reconvened downtown at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts for the 21st Annual "A Celebration of Reading." VIPs were whisked away to a private reception onstage in Zilkha Hall where co-chairs Shahla and Hushang Ansary, Susan and Jim Baker, Ginger Blanton, Lynn and Peter Coneway, Linda and Archie Dunham, Betty and John Hrncir, Elizabeth and Drayton McLane, Annette and George Strake and Tassie Nicandros were on host duty alongside committee chairs Maria and Neil Bush.
Meanwhile, more than 2,200 people filed into Sarofim Hall for the sold-out main event. Neil and Maria kicked off the festivities with a big announcement: the soiree had raised a record $2.5 million.
Former first lady Barbara Bush followed with a memorable moment of her own. Determined to outshine husband and former President George H.W. Bush's 90th birthday antics last summer, complete with Houston Cheerleaders, she was escorted by defensive end J.J. Watt across the stage for a "Happy Birthday" serenade by the Barbara Bush Elementary School chorus.
A video montage of humorous well wishes from Reba McIntyre, Brad Paisley, George Strait, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford had the audience roaring with laughter.
Collins kept the jokes rolling as she opted to read the sanitized flap of her latest novel, "The Santangelos," in lieu of a racy chapter, but despite her best efforts, a few expletives escaped. On the opposite end of the spectrum, McCullough's reading of "The Wright Brothers" excerpt was G-rated in comparison. For the finale, former President George W. Bush joked that he wrote "41: A Portrait of My Father" partly to dispel the notion that he can't read.
Singer-songwriter Olivia Somerlyn ended the night on a patriotic note and performed "You Raise Me Up" and "America, the Beautiful" with the Houston Children's Chorus. Supporters lingered for a light supper and to toast the successful bash that was clearly one for the books.
In the crowd: Margaret Williams and Jim Daniel, Carolyn Farb, Paige Fertitta, Soraya McClelland,Winell Herron, Rosalee McCullough, Pierce Bush, Lizzie Andrews, Doro Bush Koch,Dr. Julie Baker Finck, Liza McFadden, Cathy and Joe Cleary, Max Bushman, Sue and Greg Maxwell, Janice and Bob McNair, Hannah and Cal McNair, Kathy McGovern, Limor and Stuart Smith, Lee Tillman, Paul Weeditz and Lori and Don Wallette