UNICEF Gala Raises $1 Million, Honors Boggios, Lester Smith

Clockwise from top left: UNICEF Honorary Chairs Leela and Nat Krishnamurthy with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner at the Gala held on Friday, May 3 at the Post Oak Hotel; Sue Lester flanked by Margaret Alkek Williams (left) and UNICEF USA President & CEO Caryl Stern; Mayor Turner with Dan and Susan Boggio who received the Helena Pantaleoni Humanitarian Award for their tireless efforts for the Houston chapter through their Boggio Fund for UNICEF programs.

HOUSTON: The 6th Annual UNICEF Gala was held at the Post Oak Hotel on May 3 to a ballroom full of the cream of Houston society drawn to the common cause of helping children worldwide. Honorary chairs for the event were the Houston power couple of Nat and Leela Krishnamurthy (also a Director of the UNICEF Southwest Region) who have been active in the organization since the chapter started.

The event was held in the newest five-star hotel Post Oak at Uptown Park, named after the boulevard itself, where guests were escorted in and had their runway pictures taken before entering the ballroom. Part of the fundraiser featured silent auction items whose increasing bid prices rolled over on an electronic tickertape billboard hoisted on an elevated stage at the entrance to the ballroom. After a sumptuous dinner, the remainder of the large-ticket items were auctioned off live by Stephen C. Lewis. By the end of the evening, the gala raised over a million dollars for UNICEF.

The emcee of the event was television personality Debra Duncan. Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO of UNICEF, USA illustrated the organization’s work with the story of a young boy in a refugee camp in Jordan who never complained even as he shared his biscuit with his sister. She described the Kid Power program which emphasizes “Kids Helping Kids” events and shows that even Houston kids can make a difference to other less fortunate kids overseas.

Joining her onstage, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (who sat with the Krishnamurthys) added “these are our children, wherever they may be. Children are our message to the future.”
The gala honored Susan and Dan Boggio, its largest contributors, who were presented with the Helenaka Pantaleoni Humanitarian Award by Stern. The award is named after the late Polish American silent film actress who raised more than $113 million in the 26 years she headed UNICEF, and is the mother of actress Tea Leoni.

Dan is founder and Chairman of PBK Architects, a national design firm, and along with his wife has created the Susan and Dan Boggio Fund for UNICEF programs. They narrated a short video of the field work they have done over the past year. “We are 99.1 per cent the same, but we live in a world where we lose 16,000 kids a year worldwide,” explained Susan. “UNICEF is already there making a difference.”

The Margaret Alkek Williams Humanitarian Award was presented by Williams herself to Sue Smith in memory of her late husband Lester Smith who died this past March. Lester was an oilman and generous philanthropist who was known for his playfulness and deep pockets.

Together, the couple recently gave a whopping $50 million to the Texas Children’s Hospital and were generous with other charitable causes too, including UNICEF. Lester loved dancing and in his memory, as the guests left, they were given complimentary copies of his book “You Gotta Dance like No One’s Watching.”

As the evening ended, The Garden State Guys performed a golden oldies tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and soon filled the dance floor. NextGen hosted a silent disco after the party.