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Society / Featured Parties

Barack Obama’s $5.4 Million Houston Night Far Exceeds Proceeds From George W. Bush Celebration

Golf With Jim Crane, a Tilman Hotel Encounter and More Behind the Scenes Moments

BY // 11.28.18
photography Katy Anderson, Jeff Fitlow, Tommy LaVergne, Mike Stravato for Rice University

“Cool” as in hip, “very warm,” “very friendly” — so was the assessment of former President Barack Obama as he privately posed for photos with those making six-figure contributions to the 25th anniversary celebration of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The high-level support clearly enhanced the night’s coffers which totaled $5.4 million for the bipartisan think tank that is ranked number three internationally. Tuesday’s figure easily surpassed proceeds from the 20th anniversary celebration that featured former President George W. Bush.

It was an elite group that gathered inside the Baker Institute while more than 1,100 black-tie attired guests assembled just outside for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on Jamail Plaza before making their way to the mega-tent, requiring two weeks for assembly, where dinner would be served and Obama heard.

Among those attending the intimate private reception were anniversary gala chairs Franci Neely, John Nau and Andrea White (fourth chair Ned Holmes was unable to attend), hosts Shahla and Hushang Ansary, and major donors including Beth Robertson, Jeri and Marc Shapiro, Nancy and Rich Kinder, Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani of Qatar, Melza and Ted Barr, and Janet Gurwitch and Ron Franklin, representing donors Sheridan and John Eddie Williams.

The former president’s Houston layover was a busy one: Tuesday afternoon he visited with former President George H.W. Bush, checked in at the Post Oak Hotel and schmoozed briefly with owner Tilman Fertitta, then spoke at the gala dinner and on Wednesday played golf at River Oaks Country Club with Astros owner Jim Crane and Randy Hale, Rock Hill Capital founder and managing director. While Hale’s Republican friends razzed him about golfing with the Democrat, Crane was in his comfort zone on the links with Obama as this wasn’t the first time that the two had shared a golf cart.

The gala, as is Baker Institute tradition, featured a conversation with Obama and the institute’s namesake former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, moderated by presidential biographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham.

The program included Michelle Williams singing “Amazing Grace” and welcome remarks from Baker Institute director Edward Djerejian and Rice University president David Leebron.

Bringing the logistics together (ie. the dual tents, beautiful table settings and outdoor heaters that resembled massive floor lamps) were Richard Flowers and The Events Company. CityKitchen provided the dinner featuring prime aged beef tenderloin that was indeed as tender as was billed.

Kudos to the powers that ditched valet parking for the 1,000-plus clutch, instead providing a nearby garage parking and shuttle transfers from neighboring parking lots. No valets, no long lines. The winners were those taking Uber and Lyft.

PC Seen: Sarah and Bill Morgan, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Milton Carroll, Renu and Suresh Khator, Janet and Paul Hobby, Chalvalier and “Bun B” (aka Bernard Freeman), Maria and Neil Bush, Mayor Sylvester Turner, former mayor Bill White, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Sima and Masoud LadjevardianFrancoise Djerejian, Susan Baker, Patti and Richard Everett, Molly and Jim Crownover, and Susan and Mac Dunwoody.

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