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Houston Billionaire Uses His Glamorous River Oaks Mansion to Help Fight Modern-Day Slavery

BY // 03.14.17
photography Priscilla Dickson

Luxury cars pulled through the gates of the River Oaks Boulevard party house of billionaires Susan and Fayez Sarofim on a spring-like night with a moon bright enough to reveal banks of white azaleas along the drive. While uniformed valets attended the gleaming vehicles, the coterie of cocktail-attired guests entered the art-filled home that has played host to many a swank party.

The occasion was the underwriter cocktail buffet for UNICEF’s Audrey Hepburn Society Ball, a lavish gala set for May 24 at the Marriott Marquis. What promises to be a stellar evening will be headlined by Michael Bolton. UNICEF ambassador and actress Angie Harmon will attend to receive the Spirit of Compassion Award and Sean Hepburn Ferrer, son of the late actress and UNICEF ambassador, will attend as honorary chair, thereby giving the ultimate blessing to the evening.

Our name-dropping continues for the big night as philanthropist Margaret Alkek Williams will present the Margaret Alkek Williams Humanitarian Award to oil scions and philanthropists in their own right Rose and Harry Cullen.

Williams and Rose Cullen were among those who gathered in the two-story party room in the rear of the Sarofim mansion. CityKitchen staff swirled through, offering champagne and light bites while on the balcony overhead a Vintage Virtuosi string quartet performed Mozart and Hayden.

Though champagne flowed and air kisses abounded, there was a sober note to the evening — human trafficking.

Funds from the gala are earmarked for UNICEF’s End Trafficking project, a need close to home considering Houston’s unenviable position as one of the nation’s leading locales for this form of modern-day slavery.

“This issue has galvanized people and gotten people involved who have never been involved before,” said Amy Pierce, who with her husband, Rob Pierce, is among the gala chairs.

UNICEF founded the End Trafficking initiative in 2012 in an organized effort to encourage communities to take meaningful action to help protect children. A number of UNICEF staff and board members attended the gathering including Nelson Bowman, Southwest Region of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF managing director. 

“At this year’s UNICEF Audrey Hepburn Society Ball, we’re inviting all Houstonians to join us in the fight to end child trafficking – an issue that affects far too many kids right here in Houston, in all 50 states across the nation, and around the world,” he said. “As we celebrate UNICEF’s lifesaving work and honor extraordinary humanitarians for their commitment to put children first, we hope our guests will be inspired to take action to save and protect the world’s children.” 

Stepping up for the cause as gala chairs Jerry Ann Woodfin Costa and Victor Costa, Sofia Adrogue and Sten Gustafson and Princess Tatiana Galitzine and her fiancé, Guillermo Sierra, were among the guests greeted by both Sarofims.

The powerful cadre of honorary chairs stepping up for the cause include Molly and Jim Crownover, Karin Ferrer, Princess Maria-Anna Galitzine and Prince Piotr Galitzine, Joanne King Herring, Sippi and Ajay Khurana, Penny and Paul Loyd, Beth Madison, the Sarofims, United Against Trafficking development director Chris Flanagan and board chairman James Adams.

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