I’m accustomed to walking into the Plaza’s Grand Ballroom for many the evening event to be greeted by a sea of sparkly gowns and tuxedos. Less so, to shivering my way in from the cold just after noon to a crush of knee high boots and Chanel skirt suits. But such was the scene Thursday late morning when I attended the American Cancer Society’s annual Mothers of the Year luncheon, which this year bestowed its namesake honor on Muffie Potter Aston and Dr. Freya Schnabel.
Co-chairs Grace Hightower De Niro, Somers Farkas, Patti Hansen, Alexandra Lebenthal, Cynthia Lufkin, Allison Stern, Georgette Mosbacher and Diana Feldman mixed with Jennifer Creel, Tory Burch (last year’s recipient), Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos and Gigi Mortimer, in the cacophonous cocktails (wine is good for the heart, after all) before being ushered into the main room for Asian-tinged grilled chicken and back-to-back speeches. First up was Feldman, who introduced the afternoon’s emcee, David Patrick Columbia as “the official social networker before Mark Zuckerberg ever thought of it.”
When Patrick Columbia took to the podium, for the first of multiple appearances, he started with a shout out to the honorees—”Muffie Potter Aston is great for bringing them in [to charity events] and Dr. Schnabel is great for sending you on your way”—and launched into a long description of the ACS’s various, successful ventures including the Hope Lodge New York, a housing venue for patients receiving treatment, and Camp Adventure, a Shelter Island-based camp for children with cancer, turning to Feldman midway through to ask “Am I reading the right speech or am I reading your speech?”
He was back again after the first course to usher Hansen to the stage to present Schnabel with her award. Wearing a bright green animal print jacket and sleek leather leggings, Hansen stood out like a smoking hot rockstar amid tables of lady-like tops, and received many an approving—and envious—look from the audience. But her speech was more heartfelt paean than cool girl musings.
“This is not my comfort zone but I knew I had to rise to the occasion,” said Hansen, who met Dr. Schnabel on a routine visit ten years ago. “I think we have a problem,” she recalled as the doctor’s words when she found out she had bladder cancer. Since then, the two have become friends, as Hansen noted to laughs, “Freya loves her music, but she loves my husband’s music the most.” A moved Schnabel offered her thanks, though seemed a bit shy on the “Mother of the Year” title. “Did somebody ask my kids if I picked up their socks?” she joked.
Dr. Sherrell Aston presented to his wife recalling their blind date on June 20, 1994 (a Barbara Streisand concert at Madison Square Garden) and Potter Aston’s declaration to him early on of her desire for children. “She said, ‘We’re saying we love each other and I don’t know where this relationship is going. I intend to be a mother one day and if I don’t do that, I’ll feel like a failure.’”
Fitting, then, that their two young daughters Bracie and Ashleigh, in matching pink, monogrammed dresses, joined him onstage to honor their visibly touched mom. “There is no award I’ve received in my life more cherished than this,” said a teary-eyed Potter Aston who had many in the audience dabbing at their own eyes with napkins as she related her struggles to finally have children. “[Motherhood] was a club for which I was dying to gain entry. It was a tough road. Only now do I realize how lucky I am that motherhood didn’t come so easily to me because now I can savor every tender moment. I am insatiable when it comes to my daughters.”