Accentuate the Positive

The editor of The Litchfield County Times, a 2010 SNA Newspaper of the Year, the national award-winning glossy magazine Passport and other publications, celebrates the best of what Northwest Connecticut and beyond has to offer.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Good Time Had By All

As the editor of The Litchfield County Times, LCT magazine and Passport magazine (among others), I get invited to a lot of events. Most sound tempting, and most come and go without me, based on the confluence of work and life responsibilities.

One event I find the time to attend each year is the annual benefit auction for the Cornwall-based Housatonic Valley Association, which, led by Lynn Werner, protects land and water in the 83 communities that make up the Housatonic River Valley, spanning Connecticut, the southern Berkshires and part of eastern New York.

Supporting HVA may be the primary reason to show up for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and an afternoon of bidding on silent auction items and raising your paddle in a live auction---but it's hardly the only reason. Logistically, the gala has everything going for it: the parameters are kept simple, the time of day is perfect, the cost ($50 for basic tier admission) is inexpensive, and the wine and food flow generously.

But those reasons collectively are like the amuse bouche before a fine meal. In the case of the HVA auction, the equivalent of the appetizer might be the silent auction items. Ranging from donated artwork to jewelry, clothing, wine, furniture, services, getaway dinners and more, the items are things you really want to bid on---and actually hope to take home.

Pursuing the metaphor of a meal, the rich, rich dessert is the live auction items, ranging from week-long stays in retreats in France to this year's show-stopper: a visit to the set of the hit CBS show "The Good Wife" and a chance to meet the show's star, Julianna Margulies. (I'm still cursing myself for not bidding on, and winning as a gift for my wife, the visit to designer Diane von Furstenberg's New York studio, which came with lunch at a trendy restaurant and a $1,000 gift certificate to purchase something from the designer's collection.)

All of that is reason enough to turn out on a cold late November day at Bryan Memorial Town Hall in Washington to support HVA, sip wine and have some fun, but the deal clincher---the entree in the meal metaphor---is the people. From the HVA staff to its board, the long list of supporters and the legions of "ordinary folks" who round out the movement to protect and preserve the region's environmental riches, they are a great group.

That big-ticket auction item featuring Julianna Margulies was arranged by none other than Christine Baranski, who has a home on Lake Waramaug and this year took over from Ms. von Furstenberg (who has an estate in New Milford) as honorary chairman of the auction. Ms. Baranski, whose turn on "The Good Wife" is perfectly pitched and mesmerizing, also helped make the board of honorary co-chairmen more robust. The who's who list included Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, designer Oscar de la Renta (who calls Litchfield County home) and Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder of the French Culinary Institute. Here's a photo by Walter Kidd (who took all of the images below) of Ms. Baranski with Ms. Werner at this year's auction.

I've had the pleasure of chatting with Ms. Baranski about HVA and other things, working for a short stretch (very indirectly) with Mr. Carter, featuring Mr. de la Renta in Passport magazine, and dining at Ms. Hamilton's home, and at the French Culinary Institute. For all their success and fame, they are gracious people whose devotion to their own pursuits has forged a core sense of dedication to important missions, and it is that they summon in coming to the aid of HVA. In fact, Ms. Baranski says that one of her favorite things about the annual auction is how it serves to bring together diverse demographic groups among area residents for the sake of the place we call home.

Here's another one of those folks, the talented, genuine and friendly Fran Brill, one of the "Sesame Street" geniuses and the voice of Zoe. As I write this, I'm remembering my look of horror when she and my wife were on the phone once and my wife actually ´╗┐asked if Zoe would talk to our daughter. I needn't have worried. Zoe delighted our children without hesitation.


The warmth and inclusive nature of the auction isn't lost on anyone, and this year U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Cheshire) was surely happier than ever to attend after coming off a hard-fought victory in the midterm cycle when the term Tea Party became a mantra that couldn't be muted. He brought his son, Owen, knowing that the young Democrat would be welcome, and not only because dad is a member of Congress.

Perhaps my favorite couple at this year's event is shown below: former BBC journalist and author of a series of enviously impressive novels about Ireland Frank Delaney, and his wife, author, marketer and style guru Diane Meier. Almost weekly, it seems, my senior editor, Kathryn Boughton, pitches me a new story about one or both of them. Given our effort to present readers with new and fresh content---some folks don't get a second story for years----I try to dismiss Mr. Delaney and Ms. Meier and just say no. But with them, it's impossible; everything they do is notable and fascinating. And, as you can see, they look great too.

Every year, starting around now, only a few weeks after the auction, I start looking back at the afternoon fondly. The reason is the people, who are the true treasures of this part of the world, along, of course, with our beautiful town's and pristine landscape. As the photo below illustrates, anyone who's someone is making a bid to ensure that growth and change are managed in a way that doesn't dilute the magic. Until next time.



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Location: New Milford, CT, United States

Executive Editor of a national award-winning publishing group with newspapers and glossy magazines: The Litchfield County Times, LCT magazine, Passport magazine, Fairfield County Life, etc. Contact me at

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