Monday, July 2, 2012

An intimate lunch for 1,500

I've just come back from the largest women's luncheon I've covered in my 20 year career at the Observer: the Imperial Representatives Ladies Luncheon in the Crown Ballroom of the Charlotte Convention Center. It was to honor the women from around the country and the world who support the fraternity of the Shriners International as they convene in Charlotte this week for their international convention. Special guest was the group's Imperial First Lady Patty Severe.

Charlotte is enjoying its Shriners spotlight. The incoming Imperial First Lady is Jan Madsen, wife of Al Madsen, a Charlotte businessman who'll be installed as the group's Imperial Potentate later this week making him CEO of the international organization.

And three Charlotte ladies of Oasis Shriners - chairman Brenda Rorie and her co-chairs Lucille Moss and Suzie McClure - organized the luncheon with the help of their committee members. They did an outstanding job of making each table special and beautiful which contributed to the intimate feeling of the luncheon- an  amazing feat considering the number of people in attendance.

It's the details of successful events that always fascinate me. Serving that many people takes time, so the cakes that were the dessert became part of each table's centerpiece. The cakes sat on stands (inexpensive plastic cylinders) but looked festive because they were covered in colorful tulle "tutus" made by committee member Laurin Carter. She doesn't sew, but she's one of those people that can do anything, so she figured it out. She joked with another guest that it took her six hours to make the first tutu, but at the end of the project she was churning out 15 in just a few minutes.

Each place setting had a fun party favor of a wine glass with flip-flops hand painted on it complete with its own  flip-flop wine charm. Although she had help with some of them, Suzie McClure painted about 1,000 herself. 

Brenda Rorie started planning the luncheon over a year ago. That's how much work it took. After the convention is over, she agreed to talk to me about what it takes to put on such a large event, so look for a blog about that later. 

I think the main thing about the luncheon is that yes, everyone looked really beautiful and it was a lot of fun, but the ladies were there for the higher cause of supporting the 22 Shriners Children's Hospitals that treat children regardless of their family's ability to pay.

I met one of them, a lovely young woman named Molly Carlson, who was treated at a Shriners Children's Hospital for a cleft palate as a baby and went through 11 other operations to achieve what she refers to her as her "million dollar smile" because it's the monetary support of the Shriners that made it possible. (The photo at the top of this blog is of Brenda Rorie with Molly and young guest Ansley Julian.) Molly is an ambassador for the hospitals now and is just one of the many happy endings created by the Shriners and their mission of mixing fun and philanthropy.

So if you're one of the spectators at the Shriners July Fourth parade uptown on Wednesday, know that as you're watching all the hoopla including clowns and mini cars, know that behind the fez hats are a lot of generous minds and caring hearts.