- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

The Cathedral Choral Society honored local philanthropists Norman and Winifred Portenoy with the Laura E. Phillips Angel of the Arts Award at the society’s 30th annual gala on Saturday. The event, co-chaired by Douglas and Diana Dykstra and Bill and Ruth Harwood, was the best-attended of the past 20 years, bringing together many of the choristers and their supporters.

Created in 1997 by the late Laura Phillips (one of the society’s major benefactors along with the late Paul Mellon), the award is given annually to individuals or community organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the cultural life of the capital. The Portenoys have done just that through the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, which they founded to support the arts, education, environmental and health concerns, religion and science.

After being described by mistress of ceremonies Betti Brown as not only a “power couple” who had “soldiered in the trenches” but as “our pals,” Mrs. Portenoy (known as Winnie) reflected on the many friends she and her husband had gained while supporting the arts. Her husband, quoting Jack Benny, quipped, “I don’t deserve this award — but I have arthritis, and I don’t deserve that, either.”

Though many guests certainly could empathize, there was an atmosphere reminiscent of the proverbial “good old days,” when almost everyone attending such affairs knew everybody else.

Although competing with the televised NCAA basketball tournament Final Four game with George Mason University’s Patriots, the silent auction was a great success. There was plenty of bidding on nearly 400 items, ranging from music lessons and recitals to English silver salt cellars (spoons missing) to Perrier-Jouet champagne. It was a live auction item, however, that received the most attention: a brown Labrador puppy (temporarily named for the society’s music director, J. Reilly Lewis) who has a new home with the Brendan Turners.

We had hoped that the Donna Karan grasshopper-green satin velvet coat adorning self-described dilettante Edward E. Purcell III would be one of the silent auction items, but it was not. Also spotted in the elegant ballroom of the Washington Ritz-Carlton hotel were Norwegian Ambassador Kurt Vollebaek, former award recipients Bill and Dorothy McSweeny and Gerson Nordlinger, Alexine and Aaron Jackson, Malan and Hank Strong, Bitsey Folger and Dr. Sidney Werkman, Jaylee Mead, Victor Shargai and the Washington Ballet’s Septime Webre.

Jennifer Crier Johnston

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