New Canaan's Paul Simon helps Norwalk Hospital raise $1M
There must be 50 ways to host a fundraiser, but when it came time for Norwalk Hospital to plan its annual Heart and Soul Gala, organizers turned to a local legend for help.
Boosted by a performance from legendary musician Paul Simon, the hospital sold out its annual event for the first time in three years and was expected to bring in "a little shy of $1 million," said Mary Franco, president of the Norwalk Hospital Foundation, which held the event Saturday night on the hospital's campus. A series of tents were erected in a parking lot on Stevens Street, providing shelter from a rainstorm for the more than 425 people expected to attend.
The event's proceeds will benefit patient-care initiatives at the hospital.
Franco said it took "the better part of a year" to secure Simon, a New Canaan resident, who was approached through a friend whose wife works at Norwalk Hospital.
"It was in the planning stages for quite some time, and it bore great fruit," she said.
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who first gained popularity in the 1960s duo Simon & Garfunkel, Simon embarked on a solo career in the 1970s. His hits have included "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Loves Me Like a Rock" and "You Can Call Me Al." While tickets for the Heart and Soul Gala were $500, those willing to pay $1,500 were able to meet Simon at a private reception. Accompanied by Mark Stewart on guitar and cello, Simon -- dressed in black and sporting a black fedora -- performed an acoustic set of songs during a roughly half-hour set that included "The Sound of Silence," "Mrs. Robinson" and "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard." At an attendee's request, Simon ended his performance with "Father and Daughter," a song from his most recent album, "Surprise," which was released in 2006.
"Not only is this a great way of raising money and bringing people like Paul Simon here, but it also builds momentum," said Greenwich resident David Lehn, chairman of the Norwalk Hospital Foundation. "Part of the way that we survive is by having great people like Paul help others."
Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, whose wife, Barbara, has been a nurse at Norwalk Hospital for nearly nine years, said the gala is a great way for "supporters to meet the staff." "The hospital has come such a long way in the last few years," Moccia said. "Nights like this are a tribute to the staff and the foundation and the work they do. This has always been the hospital on the hill, and now it's the hospital in the community, too." The event included silent and live auctions and the presentation of the annual William J. Tracey Award to Dr. Pradip Pathare, of Westport, a radiation oncologist and medical director of Norwalk Hospital's Whittingham Cancer Center. The award is given to a physician whose commitment and philanthropic leadership strengthens the hospital.
"It's my team that really deserves the credit," Pathare said. "Without a team, you're nothing. From the first call that someone makes to set up an appointment, when they hear a receptionist with a pleasant, inviting tone, we make sure that everything exceeds their expectations. The reward we get is hearing that patient say, `Thank you.' "
The gala is more than a fundraiser, said Pathare, who has been affiliated with Norwalk Hospital since 1980.
"It raises awareness in the community that we're here when you need us," he said.
Geoffrey Cole, Norwalk Hospital's president and chief executive officer, called the event "a very important expression of community support for the hospital and, in return, the hospital's support for the community. It reflects our mutual reliance on each other, and it's more significant in years like this where you have people who may not be able to afford (health) insurance or who may have lost their job.
"In a tough financial year, that really says a lot about the commitment to public health," Cole said.
Norwalk Hospital Foundation officials said Simon's participation clearly helped their fund-raising efforts.
"We're walking in the door with about the same amount that we raised when all was said and done last year, and we usually raise another $150,000 to $200,000 at the event," said Franco, who is also the hospital's vice president of public affairs. "Paul has been a big draw for us, especially in this economic climate." Saturday's stormy weather did provide for some unorthodox moments. As attendees enjoyed cocktails and mingled before dinner, workers used vacuums to remove rainwater that pooled around them inside the tent.
"Rain can't ruin the evening," said Erv Shames, chairman of Norwalk Hospital's Board of Trustees. "It's not going to let us lose sight of the fact that this is the bringing together of the community and its supporters. The community is so basic to what we do, and the Heart and Soul Gala reminds us that we're really in this together."
For more information about the Norwalk Hospital Foundation, call 852-2959 or visit NorwalkHospitalFoundation.org.