It might all have been a reality TV show, except no cameras were rolling.
Lisa Vanderpump, the English-born star of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules” and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” was dressed in a black coat with gold braiding, black pants, black spiked boots and long gold earrings at the Thursday, April 20, sponsor party for the annual Chick Lit Luncheon benefiting Community Partners of Dallas. Many of the 100 or so guests at the party at the Community Partners building on Elmbrook Drive were jostling to get close to Lisa, who would be the featured speaker at the luncheon the following day.
Sipping white wine and posing graciously for cellphone snaps, the 62-year-old, Los Angeles-based actress, lifestyle guru, and restaurant/nightclub entrepreneur paused for a moment to consider a question about what compels her to keep trying new things. “Life is a playground,” Lisa replied. “I want to try everything life has to offer.” She noted her charity work for animals and other causes before adding that, coming up next, “I’m opening two new restaurants.”
A few minutes later Paige McDaniel, Community Partners’ retiring president and CEO, took to the building’s staircase to address the gathering that included Mersina Stubbs, Sandy Moore, Francie Mancillas, Eiko Briggs and Luncheon Presenting Sponsors Lara and Robert Tafel. Paige told how every Chick Lit speaker in the past — the event is now in its 17th year — had been asked to tour the organization’s facility, but only Vanderpump had accepted. Then Lisa joined Paige on the stairs and said, “I’m very interested in everything you do” at Community Partners, which is a nonprofit that provides resources for abused and neglected children in Dallas County.
Among those listening intently to their exchange were Luncheon Co-Chairs Sally Dutter and Beth Thoele, Luncheon Underwriting Chairs Lacie T. Crow and Noelle LeVeaux, Greg Nieberding and Joanna Clarke, who will be taking over for Paige as president and CEO once Paige retires on Wednesday, May 31.
Around 16 hours later Lisa was back in the spotlight again, this time for the Luncheon’s VIP reception in the Wedgwood Room at the Hilton Anatole hotel. The room was packed with guests including LeeAnne Locken and Kameron Westcott (both former stars of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Dallas”), David Calhoun, Kim Quinn, Sunie Solomon and Candace Winslow, many of whom stood in line patiently to be photographed with Lisa at the “step and repeat” in one corner.
Soon enough the guests made the long walk to the hotel’s cavernous Trinity Ballroom, where they would enjoy their lunch (a salad of greens, tomatoes, bloomed cherries and dried apricots, plus Key lime pie and a coconut macaroon) as well as an extended tribute to Paige and a talk between Lisa and Laura Harris of NBC 5.
The tribute part was kicked off by Sally and Beth, who welcomed everyone, thanked Honorary Chair Debbie Scripps and said that today was “extra special” since they would be celebrating Paige, who joined Community Partners as a one-woman act back in 2002.
And, celebrate her they did.
During the invocation, Rev. Elizabeth Moseley of Highland Park United Methodist Church said, “We especially thank you, God, for Paige McDaniel.” There were videos in which people called Paige “an incredible leader” who “has worked tremendously” for the nonprofit. Community Partners Board Chair Travis Dent announced that the group’s Partners for Children Award henceforth would be known as — you guessed it — the Paige McDaniel Partners for Children Award. Joanna, her eyes moistening at one point, said Paige had been “the most influential person in my career,” with a “strong and powerful and enduring” legacy.
Lynn McBee presented an arrangement of flowers to the outgoing CEO, whereupon colorful confetti showered down and disco music reverberated throughout the ballroom.
Then Paige herself took the mic and joked,”Oh my goodness. Can we do this again tomorrow? Everyone can come back and speak about me!”
Calling her time at the organization “the ride of a lifetime,” she stressed the importance of making children feel safe and said Community Partners would “serve 18,000 children this year, with your help.”
After a “call for cash,” Lacie and Noelle introduced Laura and Lisa, who took their places in turquoise-and-pink chairs for the chat onstage. The reality TV star marveled at all the “glamorous women” and the luncheon’s substantial turnout — more than 1,100 — and said, “This ain’t happening in L.A.!” After paying her respects to Paige like the rest, Lisa explained that while she had broken her leg in seven places in a horse-riding accident a year ago, “I was back to work in five weeks.
“I think being grateful is the realization of how blessed we are,” she went on, referring to complaints from some about conditions today. “If you think what our parents and grandparents went through, this is nothing.” One of the things she’s grateful for is her son, Max, whom Lisa and her husband, Ken Todd, adopted 32 years ago out of foster care.
In short order Laura asked Lisa about the dramatic “Vanderpump Rules” finale involving cast members Ariana Madix and Tom Sandoval, longtime sweethearts who broke up after Tom was caught cheating on Ariana with one of her best friends. The reality show is set behind the scenes at a restaurant in West Hollywood called SUR, one of many eateries Lisa and Ken own.
“As a producer, it was very exciting,” Lisa said of the so-called “Scandoval.” “But as a maternal figure, I knew it was devastating.”
“Did everyone finish filming the reunion?” Laura asked, trying to get more scoop. Retorted Lisa: “I’m not telling you that!”
The conversation also included these tidbits from the featured attraction:
- “The key to anything you do has to be authenticity—that’s what makes it fly.”
- “Everything I do now is a passion project.”
- Asked how she’s stayed married for 40 years, Lisa said, “I don’t f—ing know.”
- Keys to a successful dinner party are: 1) Never invite “Real Housewives” cast members. 2) Ambiance is all-important — the right music and beautiful lighting, for example.
Toward the end of their talk, Laura asked Lisa a series of short questions, each requiring a rapid-fire answer:
- Cocktail? “A Bloody Mary on a plane.”
- An etiquette rule people break that you don’t like? “When people show up early. It’s better to be late than five minutes early.”
- What you love most about Ken? “That he puts up with me. I’m a lot. He never, ever criticizes me. And his love of dogs.”
- Your happy place? “I love being at home.”
- Celebrity crush? “George Clooney.”
- Greatest accomplishment? “Raising two positive healthy children that are actually decent human beings.”
- One designer you’d pick to be stuck with for the rest of your life? “I love Dolce. I love Chanel. I’d have to go with Dolce.”
As the luncheon concluded and guests made for the exits, the buzz about the featured speaker was excited and positive.
“She’s very down to earth,” said one. Agreed another: “That was so real!”
And, that was a wrap.
* Photo credit: Celeste Cass