“A $28 million tribute is the real thing,” Gregory Long said last night of the figure raised in celebration of his 25th anniversary as president of the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, a museum of plants and a center of education and scientific research. “It’s thrilling such generous people have come together to make these gifts.”
Long’s speech to 500 guests was part of the garden’s annual Conservatory Ball, which itself raised $2 million for children’s education, plant research and conservation programs.
In a tent where ivy-covered orbs dangled like chandeliers, he thanked his “bosses”: the three chairmen he has served under; the 62 members of the board who helped raise the sum in his honor; and the staff, including 37 employees who’ve worked at the garden for 25 years or more. The money will go toward building the Edible Academy, a year-round facility for teaching children and families about vegetable gardening and nutrition, as well as to endow “horticultural spectacle” and activities of the library.
Long’s compensation last year was $787,559, all funded privately as his position is endowed, said J.V. Cossaboom, the garden’s chief operating officer. The package was $445,000 in base salary, which Cossaboom said has been flat for the past two or three years at Long’s request, and $342,559 in deferred compensation, a one-time payment.
“The deferred compensation was the board’s way of offering a retention incentive -- and it worked,” Cossaboom said, adding that the amount was also to ensure a “sufficient” retirement for the 67-year-old Long.
Guests had been served lobster salad and chicken courses and were awaiting their baked Alaskas. At tables decorated with heaps of peonies sat billionaire Charles B. Johnson, retired chairman of Franklin Resources (whose $250 million gift helped Yale complete its fundraising campaign to build two new residential colleges), Richard Chilton, chief executive of Chilton Investment Co., former JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chairman and CEO William Harrison and Sigourney Weaver in Dior.
“It’s remarkable for a guy like Gregory to grow into the position where he is today, the loyalty that shows,” Chilton said of Long’s tenure. “It’s also remarkable to see the changes in the garden: This place today is so much better than it was when Gregory took over. That’s a gift to New York.”
In 25 years the endowment has increased 19-fold to $330 million and produces 21 percent of revenue; the operating budget, now at $70 million, has been balanced for 25 years straight; facilities for research and plants have been constructed, gardens for native plants and azaleas created, and historic buildings renovated, all part of three seven-year strategic initiatives, the planning and execution of which have been written up as business school case studies.
“It’s a combination of tenacity and vision,” said Kate Levin, the former commissioner of the department of cultural affairs for New York City. “Having one is amazing, having both is extraordinary.”
“I think he’s done a wonderful job, and if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be president for 25 years,” Johnson said, noting the heads of public companies don’t often enjoy that kind of longevity. Of his own tenure as Franklin’s CEO, “I started in 1957 with two employees,” he said, “and I finally retired as chairman last June. We did all right over the years.”
The current chairman of the garden’s board, Maureen Chilton, wife of Richard Chilton, said Long is “open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things -- and he’s always good at sticking to the mission statement. That’s what made him successful: he’s thought big and not lost his way.
‘‘He’s also just an incredible Renaissance man, he knows about art and plays and horticulture and great restaurants and traveling and interesting architectural details. He’s knowledgeable about all those things, he doesn’t dabble. He’s a fascinating person.”
Not surprising then that Long makes a good traveling companion. Chilton has gone with him to tour gardens in Ireland and the Chelsea Flower Show in London.
Garden Vice Chairman Marjorie Rosen, wife of Lazard Ltd. Deputy Chairman Jeffrey Rosen, remembers going into the rain forest in Brazil with him to observe garden researchers in the field. Long arranged for a generator at their campsite -- where they slept on hammocks -- so meals could be cooked.
“He did this rigorous and challenging trip not once but twice, because he wanted to demonstrate the work of the institution,” Rosen said.
When the baked Alaska did arrive, the dance floor was full of guests doing the twist.
Long, who was raised in Kansas City and came to the garden from the New York Public Library, had done his job putting guests in good spirits.
“Let’s all stay inspired, let’s keep moving. I say onward and upward.”
“Macbeth” at the Park Avenue Armory had its opening night performance followed by a dinner and cast party, where high-society laughter replaced giggling wicked witches.
Guests included Dan Loeb, Jay Sugarman, Mickey Drexler, Blair Effron and Anna Wintour in a dress covered in red poppies. Kate Beckinsale in white, the color du jour, sat near music executive Lyor Cohen for a meal that started with an artfully composed watermelon salad followed by beef tenderloin, on tables covered in haute burlap.
Beckinsale saved her warmest smile for Macbeth himself, Kenneth Branagh, who with this production is making his stage-acting debut in New York as well as co-directing. It was a Throwback Thursday moment as Branagh directed Beckinsale in her first film, 1993’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” which she made when she was still a student at Oxford, and which also starred Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington.
Branagh gave cheerful remarks to guests including the Park Avenue Armory’s co-chairmen, Adam Flatto, president of the Georgetown Co., and Elihu Rose, a partner at Rose Associates, as well as actor Matt Bomer (who’ll have a part in the Tony Awards ceremony on Sunday) and his co-star, Alex Kingston, Lady Macbeth. Tickets to the benefit evening were $2,500.
Scottish actor Jimmy Yuill (who plays Banquo) and Scottish composer Patrick Neil Doyle, who’s working on a Disney live-action “Cinderella” directed by Branagh, due next year, wore kilts to the party. Alex Poots failed to measure up sartorially, wearing neither kilt nor tie. He was, however, a man of the hour: His appointments as director of the Manchester International Festival and artistic director of the Park Avenue Armory helped create the production. The two entities commissioned the work, which had its premiere last July in a church in the northern England city that spawned The Smiths, New Order and Oasis.
Another man of the hour and the New York theater season: producer Colin Callender, who also has “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” with Neil Patrick Harris on Broadway at the moment.
As for the show: Audience members are divided into clans who wander a bit before druids in cloaks draw them to the scene of action, a battle in the rain. The dirt on the floor turns to mud, which gets thrown around a bit, just one aspect of what critics and audience members are calling a thrill.
“You felt as if you were living their lives at the time,” Flatto said. “Everything was designed to create that experience, even the bench seating forced you to sit on the edge leaning forward. You couldn’t lie back and be a spectator.”
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