For the first time ever, the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas combined its Holiday Reception with the celebration of its annual Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award, holding the mixed-purpose fete at the Dallas Arboretum’s Alex Camp House on Thursday evening, December 8. Valet parking—often de rigueur at significant BrainHealth events—was not made available for the affair hosted by Cindy and Charlie Feld. Instead, the 85 or so A-list guests were asked to park their vehicles in a private reserved lot near the venue. A little more about the parking logistics later, though.
Inside the cozy, festively decorated Camp House, the Center’s donors and supporters enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and holiday libations after entering and having their photos taken, some with Center Founder and Chief Director Sandi Chapman, Ph.D. Among those attending were Sarah Dodd; Barbara Horn; Gary Miller; Maisie Heiken; Beverly and Don Freeman; Andy and Admiral (Ret.) Patrick Walsh, Ph.D.; Marena and Roger Gault (who were married in the Camp House 17 years ago); Stacey and Dan Branch and their daughter Sarah Branch; Dan’s brother Dr. Charles L. Branch Jr.; and Sylvia Branch, the widow of the Branch Award’s namesake.
After repairing to a meeting room for the formal presentation following the reception, attendees were welcomed by the evening’s hosts. “Sandi asked us to host something at our house,” Charlie Feld recalled of early planning for the evening. “We said, ‘How about the Arboretum?’ Sandi said, ‘Nobody will come.’ … She thinks she knows everything!”
Once the laughter had subsided, Sandi took the mic, affirmed Charlie’s account and noted all the “powerhouses” gathered in the room. “This has been the most momentous year in our 24-year history,” she said. “You all invested … and you came, even when I said you wouldn’t! I don’t know everything, but I’m learning!”
With that, Dr. Mark Esposito recounted why this year’s Branch BrainHealth Award, which has recognized leading neuroscientists since 2010, would be going this year to Dr. Brenda Milner, who is widely considered Canada’s preeminent neuropsychologist. She is the Dorothy J. Killam Professor at the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital and a professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery there. Still working at the age of 104, Brenda’s insights and discoveries have revolutionized the understanding of how various memory, speech, and learning functions are governed by brain structures.
Brenda, who collaborated with the late Dr. Charles L. Branch while the Branch family lived in Montreal for 15 years, was unable to accept the award in person in Dallas. But Dr. Branch’s sons—Charles Jr. and Dan—explained how they had traveled to Canada to record an interview with her. In their video, which was shown to the guests on a large screen, Brenda was asked how to keep one’s brain healthy throughout life. “Read … follow your curiosity,” she advised.
Following the award presentation, guests heard from Andy and Patrick Walsh. Andy, who’s co-chairing the Center’s 2023 Legacy Award Dinner on February 2, stressed that it was her honor to work with Sandi, who “makes everyone feel welcome and wanted.” And Patrick, who’s now president of the Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep school in Pleasant Grove, added that Sandi “challenges the conventional wisdom,” which is exactly what Cristo Rey, an independent Catholic school, is attempting to do in the high-school realm.
Now, about that valet-less parking situation. As soon as the event ended at 7:30—half an hour later than scheduled—the heavens opened up with a frog-strangler that left at least one guest soaked from their ears to their socks on the lengthy walk to the private parking lot. With weather logs indicating the downpour didn’t ease up in Dallas til almost 9, we later asked the event organizers what accommodations they’d made to ensure the VIP guests made it to their cars without being drenched.
“We weren’t expecting the heavy rain toward the end of the program, but it was thankfully short-lived and did not dampen spirits in any way,” a BrainHealth spokesperson replied. “Some guests even stayed to enjoy the [Arboretum’s] 12 Days of Christmas exhibit and didn’t need an umbrella!”
* Photo provided by Center for BrainHealth