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Diabetes foundation honors its Man of the Year at Vinoy

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


More than 400 people came to honor him, but while they milled around the reception area drinking champagne, schmoozing and cruising the auction tables, Frank Newman sat quietly with his wife, Andrea, in the Palm Court Ballroom working on his speech.

"We had our son's fourth birthday party today," she said. "We're still tired from that."

Newman was named Man of the Year by the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and a black-tie gala at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort was occasion to fete him.

"It's just a wonderful cause," he said of his decision to lend his name to the organization.

Also hanging out in the ballroom, empty but for waiters putting finishing touches on dinner tables, was the evening's chairman, Tom James, chatting with board president David Matthes.

"Almost everything," said Matthes, "was underwritten or given to us for a very good price."

Even so, this event did not have a discounted look.

Michael Goldman and Bill Flemming, partners in an Orlando production company, were in charge of decorations. They created an ethereal, forestlike entrance of trellises, vines and flowers, but saved the big punch for the ballroom. This party, called A Midsummer Night's Dream, could have been subtitled the Color Purple.

Hundreds of yards of it draped tables and chairs, and purple orchids were frozen in ice orbs for centerpieces. Very dramatic.

Meeting Jack and Donna Painter in the crush of people during the cocktail hour, I said to him, "I know very few people here. Are they all from Tampa?"

"I know a lot of Tampa people," Painter said. "These aren't from Tampa. I don't know them, either."

"I don't know a lot of these people, either," said Tom James.

There was a good reason, said JDF executive director Angi Jennings. "Two-thirds of the patrons are vendors who came for the party from out of the area to support Frank."

Well, that explains that. Among the few locals I saw were Mary James, looking very tan "because I spent the day with my grandchildren at Sunken Gardens"; Pete and Shawn Veytia, owners of Red Mesa restaurant, talking about their plans for a second spot, with a Southwest theme and menu, in the new downtown Baywalk (can't wait for that to open); Brent and Debbie Sembler: Greg and Liz Sembler: Mel and Betty Sembler; Richard and Dina Succo; Dr. David and Dee Desper; and Dr. Mariano and Nava Cibran.

Atypically, no predinner hors d'oeuvres were served.

"I'd rather people have a pen in one hand (for easier auction bidding) and a drink in the other hand (ditto)," said Ms. Jennings.

That strategy worked, along with having James and Newman in charge, virtually guaranteeing the evening's success.

Tom James is, of course, chief executive officer of Raymond James Financial, and Frank Newman until recently held the same top spot at Eckerd. He announced the following Monday he would leave the company to head a new online retail company. "I delayed the announcement until after the party," Newman said Tuesday, the day before he was scheduled to leave for San Francisco, "because I didn't want to clutter the event with that sort of stuff. I thought it would take away from the point of the evening."

The point was made: The party raised a net total of about $200,000, which, I believe, is a record for a St. Petersburg gala and even more remarkable because it was a first-time event.

* * *

Borrowed landscape, the Chinese call it, of a distant vista seen from a nearby garden, and that is a bit like the serendipity of the Women's Service League fashion show on a recent Saturday.

Fashion show chairwoman Rita Pratt said a company setting up the audiovisual equipment for a corporate event that night in the Vinoy ballroom wanted to start early and asked if it could come the morning of the fashion show.

In return, Mrs. Pratt said, "They did a light show for us, videotaped the promenade, and had close-ups of all the models shown on large screens."

This annual event traditionally has been the moment when the best-groomed list of men and women is announced, but "this was our 50th anniversary, so we decided to do it differently and not have a list of new people," Mrs. Pratt said. Instead, it honored everyone on past lists. Thirty-nine of them were able to attend, and four were inducted into the Hall of Fame: John Bowman, Carol Fisher, Joan Jaicks and Jane Sayler.

Each year the Sportstacular, a party benefiting the Center Against Spouse Abuse, grows. This year a record 300 people crowded into the TradeWinds Resort ballroom for a dinner, dance and auction March 11 organized by Jacqueline Cotman and Marilyn Mathis.

Two parties in town prevented me from getting to St. Pete Beach for it, but a most reliable source tells me the following folks were spotted: Bill Ermatinger and Kitty Alexander, Marshall Lockridge and Shirley Dowling, Marilyn Benjamin, Margaret and Emory Wood, Mark Chmielewski and Linda Jantschek, Carlen and Martha Maddux, Dr. John Lindstrom, Anne Long, Betsy Estabrook, Al May, Jack and Lisa Boyle, Dick and Jane Funsch, Paul and Debbie Rowe, Dick and Shawn Ulrich, and Ira Mitlin, dressed as Charlie Chaplin in observance of the silver screen theme.

* * *

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