When they said it would be the party of the century, they were not joking. To celebrate its 100th year, Houston Methodist this month hosted a record-breaking gala that surpassed all expectations, drawing an unprecedented 2,500 guests and blowing past the $4 million fundraising goal to pull in more than $9.5 million thanks to community donations and about 246 sponsors.
The thousands of supporters convened on the field at Minute Maid Park on Thursday, November 14, the midst of Houston's biting cold snap, when temperatures hovered somewhere around 40 degrees—if that—all night. Scattered heat lamps and a steady flow of wine offered the only sources of warmth for the outdoor dinner and entertainment; as such, every guest's chair was outfitted with a plush Houston Astros blanket, and event staff doled out hand-warmers at check-in.
Many partygoers wore fur, which remained on for the duration of the program; those who didn't—and even some who did—made good use of the fleece blankets. That included event emcee and legendary NFL sportscaster Jim Nantz, who eventually brought his blanket up onstage to the podium. He joked that a ribbon-cutting for Houston Methodist's new "hypothermia wing" would immediately follow the centennial gala.
Nantz also thanked the Astros for their World Series showing, not to mention use of their field for the evening. "I'm darn proud of them," he said to applause. "I'm a Houston guy, so I'm gonna pull for my teams. I love this city; I love this hospital. I'm proud to be, in some small way, affiliated with them." Methodist's Nantz National Alzheimer's Center, which has become a world-renowned research and referral center since its 2011 inception, is named for the commentator's late father.
In all, the gala was a celebration of—and continued commitment to—the hospital's legacy of leading medicine in Houston and beyond. The millions raised will go toward attracting and retaining top-notch physicians, accelerating research, training future leaders, and promoting patient healing.
Ann and John Bookout III chaired the milestone event, and honorary chairs included the family of former President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush. No. 41's third son, Neil Bush, spoke with his wife, Maria, on behalf of the family. But, he said, he understood the crowd might want to hear from a certain brother, at which point former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush appeared in a video message congratulating the hospital for its century of service and thanking its staff for the care provided to both elder Bushes over their lifetimes.
The event also recognized honorees in various areas: Faith (Bess and Bishop A. Frank Smith), Physician (Michael E. DeBakey), Partner (Houston Astros—Methodist experts have served as the franchise's team docs for more than 50 years), Leadership (John F. Bookout), Philanthropy (Paula and Joseph C. "Rusty" Walker III), and Centennial (Ella and Walter Fondren and family).
The massive crowd enjoyed caprese salad, short rib with asparagus and mashed potatoes, and ginger crème brûlée from Aramark. Produced by Ward & Ames Events with decor by Blooming Gallery, "Rendezvous of the Century" also included music by St. Martin's Episcopal Church Choir and the Houston Symphony.
And when it came to the evening's surprise entertainment, the crowd was willing to wait for it: Tony Award-winning actor and musician Leslie Odom Jr.—best known for originating the leading role of Aaron Burr in one particular Broadway smash—capped the night with a spirited performance, to the delight of every guest who ever failed to secure Hamilton tickets.