Crystal Charity Ball Fashion Show And Neiman Marcus Scored A Home Run Bringing The Fundraiser Back To “The Store” With Posen And Pearls

Thomas Wolfe once declared, “You can never go home again.” Leave it to Neiman Marcus and Crystal Charity Ball to prove that old adage is so off base. On Friday, September 15, the 2017 Crystal Charity Ball Fashion Show and Luncheon was a love fest bringing the more-than-popular children’s fundraiser back home to the Neiman Marcus Downtown flagship.

Unlike the past couple or three years when the CCB Fashion Show took place in the store and an OMG tented venue in the adjoining parking lot, it was decided to move the whole package into the building’s various floors.

Sixth floor

Entrance to Michael Flores Salon

While regular shoppers and visiting tourists were surprised at the hundreds of top-tier fashionables filling the first floor for the official reception, one gent was gently turned away from dining in the sixth floor Zodiac. It wasn’t due to his natty Bermuda shorts. Rather, the restaurant was closed for the day due to the CCB, as well as Nancy C. Roger’s reception in the Michael Flores Salon celebrating the 10 Best Dressed (Anita Arnold, Delilah Boyd, Katherine Coker, Janie Condon, Lisa Cooley, Tucker Enthoven, Pat Harloe, Julie Hawes, Amy Hegi, Piper Wyatt) and Hall of Famer Charlotte Jones Anderson.  Before the elegant 11 arrived for the Cristal doings after their run through of the show on the second floor, NM Downtown PR Marjon Henderson admonished them that they were to be back on the second floor no later than 11:15 a.m.

For first timers, it was a shock-and-awe moment when they saw how Fancy Nancy, Michael F. and her go-to-Gro designer Nathan Johnson had turned the entry into a whimsical tunnel of greenery, white flowers and rose petals strewn along the way and highlighted by chandeliers. Nathan admitted that he and his crew had worked around the clock to create and install the masterpiece that would be history by noon.

Michael Flores and Nancy Rogers

Pam Perella, Robyn Conlon and Claire Emanuelson

And, of course, the flutes on the silver trays screamed Cristal. You were expecting Kool-Aid? BTW, the “C” in Nancy C. Rogers does not stand for Cristal.

Just past 10:30 a.m., the hostess arrived to greet guests like 2017 CCB Chair Pam Perella, 2018 CCB Chair Claire Emanuelson, 2014 CCB Chair Robyn Conlon, Dallas Snadon, Gina Betts, Vicky Lattner, Di Johnston, Nancy Carter, Angie Kadesky, Mike Wyatt, Vin Perella with daughter Lauren Perella, Ryan Wilson, Debbie Breard, Niven Morgan and Shelby Wagner, Joan Eleazer, Bela Cooley, Sue Gragg, Becky Bowen, Dixey Thornton, Ginger Auer, Tanya Foster, Alicia Wood, Leisa Street, Lynn McBee, Nancy Carlson, Capera Ryan, Sam Boyd, Beth Layton, Muffin Lemak, Ann Dyer, Shelle Sills and DeeDee Lee.

Vin Perella, Lauren Perella and Ryan Wilson

Vicky Lattner, Di Johnston, Nancy Carter and Angie Kadesky

Second floor

In the meantime, the rest of the store was buzzing. As NM special events mastermind Sandy Marple was finishing up with the dress rehearsal, fashion show featured designer Zac Posen arrived with Celine Mariton on the second floor that had been turned into a red carpeted showroom cloaked in black and as narrow as an arrow’s shaft.

Sandy Marple, Zac Posen and Celine Mariton

On three sides were tiers of gold chairs with comfy red, purple and taupe cushions. Down the middle of the room was a back-to-back row of the chairs. At one end of the room was Zac Posen spelled out in gold on both sides of the runway entrance. Zac was blown away by the reconfiguration of the couture salon that he knew so well. Whipping out his cellphone he took a shot of the room.

Fourth floor

Luncheon table

Just two floors up,tables were in the final stages of being set up for the seated luncheon. Table hosts’ assistants were making sure that place cards were in the right spots. Even fashion show featured designer Zac Posen’s team had provided mementos for the guests. Some were gifted with Zac-designed scarves and others received Zac sunglasses.

Back to the second floor

Then the bewitching minute arrived with the 10 Best Dressed and Charlotte scurrying down to the second floor for the presentation. Eventually the guests from both the first-floor reception and Nancy’s party made their way to the second floor with elevators and escalators moving nonstop.

As the sold-out crowd of more than 500 started filling the gold chairs, CCB Reservations Co-Chair Paige Slates looked over the setup and smiled. She and Tiffany Divis had been in charge of reservations and admitted that until all the derrières were in place, they weren’t going to be satisfied.

Laura Bush and Lee Ann White

Nancy Dedman and Joan Schnitzer

Sarah and Ross Perot and Lisa Troutt

Kelli Ford

Mary Clare Finney

As guests finally settled down, a voice announced NM Fashion guru Ken Downing, who arrived from backstage to the podium set up midway across the aisle from Annette Simmons, Nancy Dedman, Joan Schnitzer Levy, Lee Ann White, former first lady Laura Bush, Sarah and Ross Perot and Lisa Troutt. Like a fashion version of a Texas A&M yell leader, Ken extolled his love and support of Zac — “My mother has pictures of Zac all over the house. There’s not a picture of me anywhere.” According to Ken, one of Zac’s first ventures outside NYC was Neiman’s in Dallas and he fell in love with “his girls.” Upon learning that he would be the featured designer for the CCB event, Zac texted Ken and asked him to put the show together for “our girls.” Ken continued saying the show wasn’t “just a fashion show. The show is a gift from my heart and from Zac’s heart to all of you.”

Karen Katz

He then introduced NM President/CEO Karen Katz who welcomed the group and said it was only right to bring the fashion show back to “our house” for the company’s 110th anniversary year. Karen was followed by 2017 CCB Chair Pam Perella and Fashion Show Chair Christi Urschel, who thanked all for supporting the organization providing millions of dollars for Dallas children’s charities.

Julie Hawes

Charlotte Jones Anderson

With that Ken returned to the podium to present the 10 Best Dressed and Hall of Famer. It came off without a hitch. Ken provided the commentary with touches of ad libbing. Blonde Julie Hawes dropped her red fur jacket midway and dragging it the last lap.

Zac Posen fashion

Zac Posen fashion

Zac Posen gown

Zac Posen gown

Then Ken stepped aside, the podium was removed and the models took their turn in Zac fashions — adorable frocks for cocktail parties, black short shorts and billowing ball gowns. One or two appeared to channel Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress.

Margot McKinney

Margot McKinney jewelry with Zac Posen gown

Highlighting the outfits were necklaces, earrings, bracelets and all sorts of exquisite bling provided by fourth-generation Australian jeweler Margot McKinney, who made headlines when she bought a harvest of 85,000 baroque pearls.

Zac Posen

For the finale, it was a standing ovation with Zac doing a victory lap.

Back to the fourth floor

As the fashionable guests made their way to the fourth floor for lunch, the 10 Besties and Charlotte took their places for group photos with Zac, Margot, Ken, Pam and Christi.

From the left: (standing) Katherine Coker, Anita Arnold, Delilah Boyd, Charlotte Jones Anderson, Pat Harloe, Lisa Cooley, Tucker Enthoven and Julie Hawes; (seated) Janie Condon, Christi Urschel, Pam Perella, Amy Hegi and Piper Wyatt

From the left: (standing) Katherine Coker, Anita Arnold, Delilah Boyd, Charlotte Jones Anderson, Pat Harloe, Lisa Cooley, Tucker Enthoven and Julie Hawes; (seated) Janie Condon, Margot McKinney, Ken Downing, Zac Posen, Amy Hegi and Piper Wyatt

Then they joined the others for the meal “inspired by” Zac’s new cook book, “Cooking With Zac” due out in October. Guests donned their new found sunglasses for photos. Fancy Nancy sent bottles of Cristal to the10 BD tables. Ken and Zac shouldered it up. Karen joined up with three generations of Jones girls (Gene, Charlotte and Haley Anderson)…Christi celebrated with her mom Linda Carter, husband Hal Urschel and BFF Sarah Perot.

Haley Anderson, Charlote Jones Anderson, Karen Katz and Gene Jones

Linda Carter

Elsa Norwood, Susan Palma, Patty Leyendecker and Tiffany Divis

As the guests dined on the fourth floor, a truck parked along South Ervay was being loaded with the gold chairs, the black showroom was being disassembled and the couture salon was back in business.

For more than 85 pictures, check out MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.

Crystal Charity Ball Platinum Dinner Kicked Off The 2017 Fall/Winter Fundraising Season With Friends, Food And A Flourish Of Photos

Well, yahoo! The fall fundraising season of 2017 kicked off with a surprise refresh for an annual event! Once again the Crystal Charity Ball Fashion Show Platinum Dinner took place at the Dallas Country Club. But it had all types of adjustments and they were rewarded with a manicured thumbs-up.

Sure, the evening of Tuesday, September 5, had a hint of a cool front. But it also was the day after Labor Day weekend, which is considered a tricky situation for most event planners since folks are just settling back into their post-summer routines.

Ralph and Barbara Babb and Shelly Slater and Clay Huffstutter

But as the crowd gathered in the reception lobby, it became apparent that the fears were unwarranted. While the 10 Best Dressed proved their stuff, the rest of the 270 guests held their own fashionably, too. One of the first on the scene was Dallas Cowboy head man Jerry Jones, who was immediately surrounded by Comerica’s first couple Barbara and Ralph Babb and emcee Shelley Slater and husband Clay Huffstutter. About 15 minutes later Gene Jones arrived, all in black, and asked someone if she was the first Jones on the scene. When she learned Jerry was already in the ballroom, she registered surprise: “I told him to be here at 7:15, and he listened to me.”

Gene And Jerry Jones and Charlotte Jones Anderson

Annette Simmons and Jerry Fronterhouse

Daffan Nettle and Pam Perella

Lee Bailey told Mike Wyatt and Niven Morgan that after waiting months—or was it years?—she had a brand new steering wheel for her Rolls… Shelby Wagner was back from the family country place with Niven and Claire and Dwight Emanuelson. Claire claimed it was a great getaway, thanks to the property’s six dogs that kept things lively… Ola Fojtasek came with her mom Jacqueline Fojtasek and jeweler Ross Ameringer… Also returning back to north Texas were Annette Simmons and Jerry Fronterhouse. According to Jerry, “We were getting cabin fever in Carmel.” When asked if they were still in newlywed status, Jerry didn’t hesitate, “No longer. We’ve been married 16 months,”… Others who had just returned to North Texas were Ann and Matt Schooler, from Utah, and Lee Ann and Alan White, from Aspen. Said Alan of the Colorado town: “When I hang it up, we might go there to live.”

Gary and Cindy Turner and Ann and Matt Schooler

Jacqueline Fojtasek

Christi Urschel

From the left: (back row) Vicky Lattner, Michaela Dyer, Ann Dyer, Emilynn Wilson, Di Johnston and Susan Roberds; (front row) Beth Layton, Linda Secrest, Nancy Carter and Angie Kadesky

Chatting it up, this crowd would have been happy as ducks in Exall Lake with just the cocktail party, but the chimes called them to the ballroom, which had never looked better. CCB Chair Pam Perella, Event Chair Christi Urschel and event planner Tom Addis had set up the floor plan with the entire wall at the far end of the room draped in sheer white curtains, along with bigger-than-life individual photos of the 10 Best Dressed (Anita Arnold, Delilah Boyd, Katherine Coker, Janie Condon, Lisa Cooley, Tucker Enthoven, Pat Harloe, Julie Hawes, Amy Hegi, Piper Wyatt) and Hall of Famer Charlotte JA.

One 10 Best Dressed husband, upon spying the photos, chuckled that the photos of the husbands should be on the opposite wall.

When it came to sitting down, that exercise went into slo-mo until Shelly went on the PA advising all to settle down. Originally, WFAA’s Ron Corning had been slated to emcee the dinner. But just weeks before he had fallen in Santa Fe, resulting in a broken knee cap, surgery, cast/brace, crutches and rehab for weeks to come.

But Shelly’s call to chairs worked, and the show got underway, with Pam welcoming all and Ralph showing his and Comerica’s appreciation for the work of CCB.

Then Shelly introduced the 10 Best Dressed. As each woman stood, she was presented with a token of appreciation.

Shelly Slater

When it came time for the announcement of the Hall of Famer, Shelly first introduced past HoFers (Annette Simmons, Lee Ann White and Gene Jones). First announced was Lee Ann, who looked a bit startled upon hearing her name. She thought she was being called out, due to her talking with Gene during the introduction.

In a break from the program, Shelly told how she’d first met Charlotte. Looking at the Jones’ table on the front row, she then revealed that Jerry would be introducing his daughter.

Taking the podium, the Jones patriarch recalled having watched Charlotte caring tenderly for her babies year before, adding that, in order to gain the same empathetic feeling, “Every husband should have to be a father first.” 

Jerry Jones

Next Jerry looked at Charlotte and said, “You’ve been a part of the Dallas Cowboys since I fired Tom Landry!” (Then he murmured, jokingly, “I still can’t get a joke out of that.”) With that, though, he turned serious, remembering Charlotte’s important role in persuading NBC to televise the halftime, “Red Kettle” Salvation Army show during the Cowboys’ traditional Thanksgiving Day game broadcast. “That was probably the most important thing we’ve done as the Cowboys,” he added, “and we wouldn’t have gotten it done if not for you, Charlotte.” (Ever the businessman, he said that the TV time was probably worth $2 billion over the years.) Tearing up, Jerry said, looking at Charlotte: “We’re here tonight to honor you.”

With that, Charlotte, with husband Shy Anderson next to her, smiled and hugged her dad and received a standing ovation.

After that, the crowd settled down to a dinner of baby greens, shoestring cucumber, baby tomatoes, red onion, shaved Romano cheese and lemon thyme vinaigrette; grilled filet and herbed sea bass, roasted fingerling potatoes, cauliflower puree and heirloom carrots and wild mushroom ragout; and a dessert of chocolate caramel hazelnut gateaux.

For more photos of the evening, check MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.

Even A Fed Ex Delivery Truck Couldn’t Slow Down The Crystal Charity Ball’s Ten Best Dressed Luncheon Reveal At Neiman Marcus Downtown

The reveal of the 2017 Crystal Charity Ball Ten Best Dressed and Hall of Famer on Wednesday, April 12, at Neiman Marcus Downtown was more of an early Mother’s Day celebration. Patsy Donosky couldn’t resist taking photos of her daughter Janie Condon on her being a 10 BD-er for the third time. SMU coed Ciara Cooley snuck in to surprise her mom — first-time BD-er Lisa Cooley — and sat between 2016 CCB Chair Christie Carter and 2012 Hall of Famer Gene Jones.

Charlotte Jones Anderson and Gene Jones

Lisa Cooley and Ciara Cooley

Patsy Donosky and Janie Condon

Gene looked proud as a mama swan when her daughter Charlotte Jones Anderson was announced as the 2017 HoF Honoree.

Unlike years past, the reveal of 10 BD (Anita Arnold, Janie Condon, Katherine Coker, Tucker Enthoven, Pat Harloe, Julie Hawes, Piper Wyatt, and first timers Delilah Boyd, Lisa Cooley and Amy Hegi) went right on schedule thanks to Charlotte’s having a speaking engagement at the Anatole at noon.

Amy Hegi, Piper Wyatt, Julie Hawes, Pat Harloe, Janie Condon, Charlotte Jones Anderson, Tucker Enthoven, Katherine Coker, Delilah Holmes, Anita Arnold and Lisa Cooley

Christi Urschel, Jeff Byron and Pam Perella

Amelia Gibson

On hand for the announcement were CCB Chair Pam Perella, Luncheon Chair Christi Urschel, Neiman Marcus Downtown GM/VP Jeff Byron,  Zac Posen Director of Global Sales Amelia Gibson, Neiman Marcus Communications/PR VP Mimi Sterling, NM Special Events VP Sandy Marple and loads of Crystals.

There was a slight hiccup that could have messed up the tight timeline. It seems just as guests were to arrive at the Commerce Street valet, a filled-to-the-brim Fed Ex truck pulled up and parked. When the valet notified the driver that they needed the space, the driver responded, “I’ve got deliveries to make.”  Peace was made and the valets handled the parking dilemma, so the guests made it upstairs in time for adult orange juice, deviled eggs and mini-waffles topped with fried chicken.   

As the 10 BD crowd took to their cars via text delivery, it proved to be a little bit of a wait, with one poor soul waiting 40 minutes for their car. But not to worry. The powers-that-be will no doubt re-arrange the Fed Ex delivery time for the Ten Best Dressed Luncheon on Friday, September 15, featuring Zac Posen’s collection inside the NM flagship.

For additional photos, check out MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.

JUST IN: Crystal Charity Ball’s 2017 Ten Best Dressed, Hall Of Fame Honoree And A Change Of Fashion Show/Luncheon Location Revealed

This morning the Crystal Charity Ball’s 2017 Ten Best Dressed were announced at Neiman Marcus Downtown. Fashionable drum roll, please.

This year’s collection of clothes-loving and community-supporting ladies include: Anita Arnold, Delilah Boyd, Katherine Coker, Janie Condon, Lisa Cooley, Tucker Enthoven, Pat Harloe, Julie Hawes, Amy Hegi and Piper Wyatt.

Amy Hegi, Piper Wyatt, Julie Hawes, Pat Harloe, Janie Condon, Charlotte Jones Anderson, Tucker Enthoven, Katherine Coker, Delilah Boyd, Anita Arnold and Lisa Cooley

Also making the runway on Friday, September 15, for the annual Fashion Show and Luncheon, will be Hall of Fame Honoree Charlotte Jones Anderson, daughter of 2012 Hall of Fame Honoree Gene Jones. It was the first time in the TBD history that a mother and daughter were in the TBD Hall of Fame.

Charlotte Jones Anderson and Gene Jones

And speaking of the catwalk, it won’t be in a tent. Nope! After three years of camping out in the adjacent parking lot, the Neiman Marcus crew is bringing it back inside the NM Downtown mother ship complete with designer Zac Posen and his collection.

CCB Chair Pam Perella and Fashion Show and Luncheon Chair Christi Urschel reported that tickets to the fundraiser will go on sale later this month. Stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted on when they’ll be available.

But you’d better be swift turning those checks in, because this one usually sells out within minutes. And remember — the bigger the check, the bigger the perks. The Platinum Circle donors will be treated to a seated dinner sponsored by Comerica Bank on Tuesday, September 5, and Platinum Patrons will be invited to a cocktail buffet sponsored by J.P. Morgan the night before the fashion show and luncheon.

This year’s plan calls for $5.8M to be raised and provided for seven beneficiaries — Autism Treatment Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Medical Center Foundation, Dallas Holocaust Museum and Center for Education and Tolerance, Hunger Busters, Presbyterian Communities and Services Foundation, Rainbow Days and Santa Clare of Assisi Catholic Academy.

Hoda And Hegi Girls Netted $217,800 For Interfaith Family Services

Amy Hegi, Hoda Kotb and Libby Hegi (File photo)

Amy Hegi, Hoda Kotb and Libby Hegi (File photo)

The Hegi gals (Amy and Libby) are high-fiving about the results from the first Interfaith Auxiliary Luncheon that was such a gangbuster in April with Hoda Kotb as the headliner at the Dallas Country Club. The ladies netted a sweet $217,800 for Interfaith Family Services (formerly known as Interfaith Housing Coalition), which “empowers families in crisis to break the cycle of poverty through comprehensive programming that builds stability, self-worth and skills.”

In the middle of a $7M capital campaign, “the Dallas nonprofit organization provides transitional housing, counseling, training, job search support, financial coaching and childcare to help parents and their children create a strong foundation for self-sufficiency.”

NBC Today’s Hoda Kotb Became Everyone’s Ultimate BFF At The First Interfaith Auxiliary Luncheon

Let’s be brutally honest. The very sound of Interfaith Auxiliary Luncheon creates images of sitting up straight and being rather solemn. Start to rethink that idea. On Tuesday, April 1, Interfaith Housing Coalition somehow managed to launch its first ever Interfaith Auxiliary Luncheon fundraiser without a hint of huffiness or starch. The result was standing ovations (no surprise) and a vast majority of LWL (Ladies Who Lunch) critiquing the event as, “This was the best one ever!”

Darn it. They may have been right.

However, it didn’t exactly appear to be any different than most lunches initially. The reception started with a chill in the air because of the late season drop in temps and the energetic A/C in the Dallas Country Club lobby and ballroom. For once, the lobby fireplace looked like mittens on a snow day.

Kevin and Marybeth Conlon, Robyn and Don Conlon, Megan and Keith Conlon and Jennifer and Joe Clifford

Kevin and Marybeth Conlon, Robyn and Don Conlon, Megan and Keith Conlon and Jennifer and Joe Clifford

And some folks admitted that they didn’t spot many of the usuals. But that changed with the arrival of Honorary Chair Robyn Conlon and her clan (husband Don Conlon, son Keith Conlon and his bride Megan Conlon and son Kevin Conlon and his wife Marybeth Conlon) and Co-Chairs Amy Hegi and Libby Hegi and their crew (parent-in-laws Jan and Fred Hegi and Amy’s husband/Interfaith Board Member Peter Hegi and Libby’s husband/Interfaith Board of Directors Chair Brian Hegi).

Sure, in the crowded lobby, the predictable “oops” of trays of wineglasses on the floor created a cozier condition, but that was relieved by the ballroom doors opening for the sold-out event.

Beth Thoele and Caren Kline

Beth Thoele and Caren Kline

Cara French

Cara French

Still it took time to settle the guests like Nancy Carter, Linda Secrest, Claire Manigold, Beth Thoele, Caren Kline, Cara French, Connie O’Neill, Jennifer and Joe Clifford, Patti Flowers, Libby Hunt, Louise Backa, Alicia Wood and Tiffany Divis in their seats, and there was “no Hoda” in sight. The “Hoda” was Emmy-award-winning NBC Today’s Co-Host Hoda Kotb, who was to be the keynote speaker. Gee, did she miss her flight that morning from NYC to DFW? Nope! She finally appeared all in white and briefly took her place next to KXAS’s Meredith Land, who was the day’s emcee.

Kimberly Williams, Jan and Fred Hegi and Louise Backa

Kimberly Williams, Jan and Fred Hegi and Louise Backa

Hoda had hardly put her napkin in her lap than she was working the room like a presidential candidate while others ate. It was easy to note her latest table visit by the whoops and hollers arising around the room. As if the stop-and-chat wasn’t enough, she earned major points by posing for group photos at the tables. Even the most proper types dropped their forks, jumped up from their chairs and gathered around the Hoda for a group photo.

One of the chaps in the crowd looked mystified by this excitement. But he also admitted that he usually was at the office when Hoda and her co-host Kathie Lee Gifford were exchanging news of the day. But he soon learned the reason for this gal-pal rally.

Meredith Land

Meredith Land

Even when Meredith came to the podium to get things goings, Hoda continued her “table service.” As Meredith introduced the Hegi co-chairs, a cheer erupted from the back of the room as Hoda hit another table.

Amy and Libby thanked all for attending and pointed to Robyn especially for her support. Then Amy told of her first encounter with Interfaith and homelessness. It was Christmas when she was a youngster and her mom bundled the kids up and delivered a Christmas tree to help settle a family in their new home. When Amy asked why the family hadn’t brought their own tree from their old home, her mother explained there had been no old home.

Interfaith CEO Kimberly Williams explained the mission and announced that they had tweaked the organization’s name just slightly. From this day on, it would be known as Interfaith Family Services. But its mission to “empower families in crisis to break the cycle of poverty” would remain the same.

Shemika Hopson

Shemika Hopson

To provide a firsthand report on how Interfaith had made a life-changing difference, Kimberly had Shemika Hopson come to the podium and tell her story.  The diminutive mother perfectly blended humor, confidence, gratitude and a don’t-say-no spirit that hadn’t been heard in a while. She had been living in a car with her two kids, but thanks to the guidance and support by Interfaith, she had grown emotionally and financially resulting in her buying her own home and landing a job and promotions.

In addition to a standing O, Shemika hardly returned to her chair before Hoda was there with her arms around the young mother. Her talk could have easily ended the program and it would have been the kiss of success for the first-time fundraiser.

Hoda was up next and admitted that it was gonna be tough to follow Shemika, but she shouldn’t have been concerned. If anything, Shemika and Hoda were the perfect pairing.

Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb

Immediately Hoda took a panoramic photo of the sold-out crowd. Then she explained that Kathie Lee had been on vacation for the past week. Hoda then recorded the guests saying with big smiles, “Welcome back, Kathie Lee.”

After putting her smartphone down, Hoda told how she got her start as a TV reporter. Blending a perfect balance of self-deprecating humor and stellar storytelling, she took the audience through her countless rejections, embarrassments and OMG success of her life. In landing her first job, she borrowed her mother’s car and told how she was going to Richmond, Virginia, for a job interview knowing that it was hers. When she arrived at the station, she looked around and decided where she would sit and which fella she would date. The news director looked at her tape for less than a couple of minutes and told her that she wasn’t ready for his station, but he did know a news director in Roanoke who might have an opening. A bit surprised but determined, she set off to Roanoke to meet the news director with the same results — not quite ready. Her thought was “Who in the hell is not ready for Roanoke?” But he told her about still another news director in Memphis who might hire her, but he was flying out the next day, so she had to hurry over to Memphis to catch him. Same thing happened there. This happened more than 22 times as she drove from station to station and city to city feeling more defeated each time. Somehow, the way Hoda told the story, everyone in the audience identified with the feeling of rejection but laughed with her in recalling the journey.

Really discouraged and tired after ten days of rejection, she found herself lost in Mississippi and spied a sign promoting the local CBS station — “Greenville, our eye is on you.” She took it as a sign, walked into the station and presented her muchly rejected tape to WXVT TV News Director Stan Sandroni, who admitted that just the day before he had been the sports director. He told “Hilda” to come on in. As he watched the tape, Hoda was shocked to see him “watch the whole, terrible, horrible tape to the end.” He told her, “Hilda, I like what I see.” She was shocked and said, “You do?” He hired her, giving her the first chance in her TV reporting career. “This guy, Stan Sandroni, changed the course of my life.”

Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb

Later in her days at the station, Stan came into the newsroom and asked, “Who has a blazer?” Hoda volunteered that she did. He said, “Oh, good, you need to anchor the news because Anne [the female anchor] was sick.” She had never anchored, but she knew there was a teleprompter and it was a one-anchor newscast. She looked at the teleprompter that read, “Good evening, I’m Hoda Kotb. Anne Martin is out sick.” The red light went on. The guy cued her. She said, “Good evening, I’m Anne Martin.” The rest of the show was downhill — “When I mess up, I keep on messing up. I can’t stop it. It was like I was riding the toboggan down the mountain screaming.”

She knew she was going to be fired the next day, so she headed to the grocery in search of comfort food. Instead in the ice cream aisle, “A woman comes over and she looks crazy. Her hair was all crazy and she had one or two teeth and she goes ‘Oh, my God, I just seen you TV and I am so sorry for you.’”

The next day Stan said he had seen what she did and it was pretty horrible, but “Anne’s sick again,” so he gave a second chance.

Years later after winning awards and climbing the TV news ladder, the folks at 30 Rock asked the on-air talent to bring someone to Studio One A who changed the course of their lives. Hoda’s pick was Stan. He walked in and said, “Oh, my God, Al Roker! Matt Lauer!”

Hoda’s message to the audience: It only takes one person to change your life.

Editor’s note: What Hoda didn’t tell the audience was Stan died less than 18 months ago at the age of 64 from a heart attack.

She then told of a state trooper who dropped everything during the Katrina evacuation to locate a child who had been placed on a bus without his mother. They were reunited in Houston.

It was also during Katrina that she was in a car sweating through her clothes and her producer told her to change her shirt to do a stand up. She took her shirt off and “was sitting there in her soaking wet bra talking to myself, talking to God. And just at that exact same moment, a bus pulls up right next to me. I looked up and there are these guys on the bus and they started banging on the windows and saying, ‘Hey, news lady, we see your titties.’ I so needed that.”

And then there was the meeting with the intern when a phone call came in from her doctor telling her that she had breast cancer. It was obvious the news was not good. Not knowing what the doctor had told Hoda, the intern asked if she wanted to be alone. Hoda said yes. But before the intern left, she asked for a favor. Hoda agreed, thinking it was to exchange numbers or take a picture. The intern asked if she could hug Hoda. “I remember looking at this kid, who knew nothing about me. But that was exactly what I needed right there and right then. This kid just wrapped her arms around me and I was like crying into this intern’s arms and she left probably wondering, ‘Who’s the crazy?’”

Following her breast surgery, Matt Lauer called her with an assignment to go to Ireland. It was pretty soon after the surgery, but her doctor gave her permission. She admitted that she felt very vulnerable and on the way home she wasn’t feeling very well and was having second thoughts on whether it had been a good idea to have taken the trip. Next to her on the plane was a man, who asked, “How are you doing?” Despite Hoda’s obviously wanting to left alone, he continued trying to strike up a conversation with her. Eventually he got his way and they started talking. He asked, “What is that on your arm?” She explained that it was compression sleeve due to a procedure. He persisted asking her what kind of procedure. She finally fessed up that she’d had breast cancer and hoped that he wouldn’t get off of the plane telling people that he’d sat next to a girl who had had breast cancer. To that he asked, “What is wrong with you? Breast cancer is just a part of you. It is like going to college, getting married or working at NBC. Let me give you some advice and you can go to sleep.” He then gave her some advice “that I never forgot, ever. He said, ‘Don’t hog your journey. It’s not just for you.’ Right, Shemika?”

Linda Secrest and Claire Manigold

Linda Secrest and Claire Manigold

All eyes in the ballroom went straight to Shemika.

“He said, “Think how many people you can help right now. His name is Ken Duane.” That conversation put her on the road to promoting breast cancer awareness and taught her three things:

  1. Life has margins. There is a beginning and end, so she stopped wasting time. “I hold so tightly to the things I love and got rid of the things that I didn’t love. So, now I’m divorced.”
  2. If you survive anything big and you’re still standing at the end, then you get four words: “You can’t scare me.”
  3. The way you spend your days is the way you spend your life.

In closing, Hoda told of a random act of kindness. She got in the elevator at her apartment building and there was “this girl who looks kind of weird with an Oscar the Grouch hat pulled down.” She also had a box of cupcakes that Hoda asked about. The girl told her they were salted caramel. Hoda remarked that they smelled great and the girl told her that they had come from the bakery in Brooklyn, “30 or 40 minutes away.” The girl departed and that was it, or so Hoda thought. The next day the door man handed over a box that someone had left with a note that read, “Hi, I was the girl wearing the Oscar the Grouch hat and I met you in the elevator. You were admiring my cupcakes, but they were both spoken for. I had a little extra time, so I went to Brooklyn and got you two more.”

Hoda said, “Can you believe she did that? That’s a random act of kindness that can change your life. Now, that girl in the Oscar the Grouch hat doesn’t know that I told her story at a great speech in Dallas.”

Despite the clock in the ballroom ticking, no one wanted her to stop. Hoda was their new, absolutely BFF. And what does an audience give their BFF speaker? A standing O.

Amy Hegi, Hoda Kotb and Libby Hegi

Amy Hegi, Hoda Kotb and Libby Hegi

Later at a meet-and-greet that took place just before 2 p.m. in the Founders’ Room, Hoda hadn’t changed one iota. When she spotted the Louboutin fringed stilettos on Megan Conlon, she couldn’t contain herself. It was discovered that the shoes had been a V-day gift to Megan from her husband Keith. Upon seeing the national TV celebrity’s excitement about the footwear, Conlon brother Kevin told Keith that he was getting the other Conlon men in trouble — “I just got Marybeth flowers.”

Hoda Kotb, Don Conlon and Megan Conlon

Hoda Kotb, Don Conlon and Megan Conlon

PS — Hoda was schedule to be the commencement speaker at Tulane University Saturday, May 14, but some students circulated a petition saying, “Given the amount of money, work and passion we have poured into our educational careers at Tulane, we think we deserve better than this. Hoda Kotb is hardly an inspirational figure, and despite the fact that she has had a successful career in journalism, we feel that we deserve a more recognizable and more prominent figure than her.”

Days later the petition was replaced by one supporting the choice. So, Hoda is still on for the event and who knows? Perhaps if those naysayers open their ears and minds they just might discover that Hoda is that person of change in their lives.