BootLeg Betty

Not Just For The Birds, The Audubon Society Honors Miss M

A chilly, rainy day in May in New York
David Patrick Columbia
May 21.2008

(Bette accepts her award)

Yesterday was the National Audubon Society’s Women In Conservation Luncheon and the 2008 Rachel Carson Awards at the Plaza in the Grand Ballroom was about that.

This was the fifth annual and since its inception when about a hundred and fifty attended, it’s grown: there were more than 500 present.

The cover of the May-June 2008 issue of the National Audubon Society’s magazine.
If you thought the National Audubon Society was about the birds, as I did, you were wrong. It’s about us; all of us, and saving the planet so that we can live here.

“We must act soon,” exhorted John Flicker, President of the NAS in his remarks to the guests. On hearing, after seeing the picture of the polar bear, I could only think “soon” is not soon enough. NOW is more like it.

This was an important occasion in New York and the crowd that filled the Grand Ballroom almost to capacity confirmed that. Called for 11:30, I arrived closer to noon to find the entrance gallery jammed with people. The first person I spotted was Norma Dana who was one of the founders of the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. She was talking to a brunette woman who looked familiar although typically I couldn’t place her. Norma introduced her but I couldn’t hear the name above the roar of the crowd.

“I think we’ve met before,” I said, adding as we shook hands, “but I couldn’t hear your name.”

“Teresa Heinz,” she said. Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Oh. Duh. Embarrassed, I asked if I could take their picture to move on.

By twelve-fifteen everyone was at table. Mainly women but quite a few men in the room including, at my table Adrian Benepe, the Commissioner of Parks in New York, Peter Rockefeller, whose wife Allison has been Audubon Award Council Chair for more than 20 years; and Dan Lufkin, former Wall Street investment banker, corporate CEO and private investor who was also thirty-seven years ago the first Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection for the State of Connecticut.

Also at table was Mrs. Rockefeller’s mother, Mrs. Whipple, Cynthia Lufkin, Wendy Carduner, and one of yesterday’s Awardees, Miss Bette Midler, the Divine Miss M who has taken up the cause Big Time with her New York Restoration Project that is turning the town Green.

Our lunch was made up of entirely organic and sustainable foods and local produce produced in part by Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook. Items on the plate were all sourced within 150 miles of the city.

First Course: Red Beet Soup with Edenbrook Smoked Trout and Dill Crema. Entrée: Wild Striped Bass with a Morel and White Aspareagus Fricassee and a Spreing Pea and Coriander Sauce, Over-cured Tomatoes with Lemon Thyme. Dessert: Old Chatham Yogurt Panna Cotta with a Rhubarb Sauce and Candied Violets.

Right after lunch came the Awards. Sigourney Weaver was emcee. She introduced Carol Browner, Chairman of the National Audubon Society. Audubon’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. It can now be put in one category: Survival of all life on the planet.

The NAS was founded by a forward thinking woman named Harriet Hemenway who brought her friends together in 1896 to defend birds who were being slaughtered for their plumes use in fashion (mainly hats). In 1962, another woman, a marine biologist named Rachel Carson published “The Silent Spring” about the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides. That book had a profound effect on the environment and led to the nationwide banning of DDT.

Yesterday’s awards went to: Teresa Heinz Kerry who through her work with the Heinz Endowments and Heinz Family Philanthropies has devoted much effort and funds to environmental issues and problems. Mrs. Heinz Kerry gave a very moving talk about the issues and her belief that something can be, must be done.

A second award went to Jean Clark, Norma Dana, Mareguerite Purnell, Elizabeth Barlow Rogers and the late Phyllis Cerf Wagner for their founding of the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy.

Mrs. Dana educated many of us in the room who were unaware that until the Conservancy and the Women’s Committee took up the cause, thirty years ago, Central Park was a deteriorating, neglected, dying park of grassless fields, broken benches, and falling down buildings that was such an eyesore that many New Yorkers simply stayed away. Today the Conservancy provides 85% of the operating funds to keep the Park in the excellent shape it is in. 25 million people visit and use the Park annually now.

Ms. Midler’s acceptance was of course the highlight of the occasion because the lady is a natural highlight. She was deeply touched by the recognition for the Award. Wiping away the tears as she expressed her thanks, she talked about how she came back to New York after living in California in the 1980s to find a city full of trash and graffiti and neglect in many neighborhoods. A self-described hands-on/doers willing to get her hands dirty, she embarked on her program of “restoration.” The results have been stunning. There are a number of new small neighborhood parks now because of her efforts. There are many neighborhood gardens that have sprung up. There are hundreds of volunteers contributing their time and thousands contributing their money and now there is even a program to plant One Million Trees (you read that right) all over the city, for the greening of New York.

Allison Rockefeller told us that there are 500,000 Americans now involved in programs with the National Audubon Society. What they have discovered is that there are a lot of us out there who care and who intend to do something about the issues that are confronting us. Yesterday’s luncheon was a celebration of all that and the Awardees were the stellar oonfirmation. Heroes, and especially Heroines everywhere.

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