[Written by Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, the board chair of the Frances Perkins Center. For more information about the event, along with photos and videos, go to: http://www.francesperkinscenter.org/hc-event1-14-10.html.]
Well, it all started last summer at the Frances Perkins Center’s first annual garden party at The Brick House in Newcastle, Maine (home of the Frances Perkins Center). We had invited friends from far and wide and were delighted and happily surprised when Karenna Gore Schiff and her friend Catherine Ann Corman turned out to be among them! Karenna had mentioned that she was working on a film about FP (based on the story in her biography, Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America) with Catherine. Karenna said that she and Catherine planned to have their new film ready around the turn of the year and one thing led to another as soon as they got to talking with Barb Burt, the Center’s executive director.
Very soon, we had a major event planned for January 14th, in New York at the Harvard Club, which evolved into an afternoon and evening consisting of two panel discussions, a reception, remarks, and the premiere of the new film on FP. You can see a PDF of the program here: Jan14_Program Front.
The months passed quickly and we soon became aware, with mounting trepidation, that we had planned an event in the middle of the winter in New York City, a place where winter can mean business! We all prayed and FP may have been pulling strings again because the weather could not have been nicer. About 160 people came, including a very special surprise guest, Karenna’s father, Vice President Al Gore. His presence was a huge honor for all involved and gave the entire affair a good helping of extra excitement and all-around buzz.
After a perfect simple lunch at the club, the event swat team consisting of Barb Burt, Tomlin Coggeshall, board members Christopher Rice, Betty Wilson, and Sarah Peskin, and some great volunteers, Casey Maliszewski and Emily Wazlak, both Mount Holyoke students, and Heidi Overbeck and Jorge Ruiz from the Women’s City Club of New York, began final preparations for people to begin arriving and registering. Name badges were assembled, programs were collated, seats were set up, video people were testing and adjusting the projection equipment, other video people were setting up to record the panel discussions which turned out to be extremely relevant and incisive. All was coming together very well, a testament in no small part to expert management of the whole affair by Barb Burt, the Center’s executive director, par excellance.
Two rooms were used, one for the “theater” where the panel discussions would take place and a second room, separated from the first by to gigantic mahogany pocket doors at the back of the “theater” room. They opened onto a somewhat smaller room where there were low tables with chairs for authors to sign books, high cocktail tables for guests to talk around, and a cash bar for those who wanted a little fortification. All of it steeped in Harvard Club ambiance and crimson, plenty of old world charm and elegance.
Thanks to Barb’s foresight in having the panel discussions taped, we can share those with anyone interested. Both panels were on Social Security, the first on “The Birth of Social Security and the Transformation of America” and the second on “Strengthening Social Security in the 21st Century.”
After the panel discussions ended, we opened those great doors and had a very nice party. A new portrait of FP was set up on an easel in this room for guests to admire. It had been painted and brought down by car from Maine by artist Rob Shetterly, who has a series he calls “American Who Tell the Truth” and has added FP’s portrait to his series. During the reception, quite unexpectedly, Vice President Gore strode into the room and began chatting with people who he met or who came up to say hello. It was wonderful to see him there and truly was an honor for all.
The reception ended about 7:30pm and the group migrated back through those mahogany doors to settle back into their seats for the premiere of Karenna and Catherine’s new film. Tomlin Coggeshall, FP’s grandson, offered a few words of welcome then invited Christopher Breiseth to share a memory or two of FP which he obligingly did in his delightful way, Chris, in turn, introduced Brian Kennedy (a Telluride House resident for four of the five years that FP lived so happily and comfortably there being so lovingly taken care of). Brian gladly shared some fond memories, and then Barb Burt gave us an overview of the Center’s accomplishments and plans as she introduced Ruth Acker, president of the Women’s City Club of New York, and Rob Shetterly, the Maine artist who brought his portrait of FP down from Maine.
After Rob finished speaking, Barb introduced Karenna and Catherine, who gave us a good understanding of the process and background on their film. They mentioned that their film was in a draft form and and invited comment from the audience. The film imparted a clear sense of FP’s complicated and varied life and career through narration by Karenna with chapter titles and a series of wonderful black and white photos.
So, to recap a recap, on January 14, 2010, we enjoyed wonderful afternoon and evening of…
Panel discussions, a reception with many friends, old and new, some remarks by some, viewing a new portrait of FP by Maine artist Rob Shetterly, and the premiere public showing of a new film on FP by Karenna Gore Schiff and Catherine Ann Corman.