When Mickey Mouse met David Rockefeller
In the not-for-profit world, which I abandoned years ago, one is now and then expected to "make appearances." This is different from the real world of for-profit where your presence is usually a one-on-one meeting during which you simply sell your product or service for what it is. Appearances, though, require that you be highly altruistic and, often, self-sacrificial before a group. In both cases, of course, there is fierce competition to make the sale and presentation is everything. In presenting myself and selling my product, I have made a fool of myself in both worlds.
I have piquant memories of an experience I once had in New York at a function of the World Monuments Fund. For those who may not know, WMF is the most prestigious and successful of any organization in the world for advancing the conservation of cultural heritage. They have raised more money, provided more advocacy and given more technical assistance in every corner of the world than any other organization, period. Check 'em out at www.wmf.org.
Every year WMF presents its Hadrian Award, a high honor bestowed upon someone who has contributed in a spectacular way to heritage preservation. Among the recipients are Aga Khan IV, Paul Mellon, Brooke Astor, Marella and Giovanni Agnelli, etc., etc., . . . you get the idea. I had been invited to attend WMF’s Hadrian Award ceremony and luncheon in 1994 when David Rockefeller was the recipient. Parenthetically, I was the guest of a subsequent Hadrian Award honoree from whom I am still hiding.
I was on 5th Avenue that year because I had been helping facilitate some adobe and stone restoration work around New Mexico. The day before I left for New York, I was leaving the tribal offices of one of the pueblos and there, on the sidewalk, was a Mickey Mouse watch. Under the plastic crystal were the big ears, the bulbous nose, the insipidly smiling face, and two yellow-gloved hands that told the time. It still worked so I strapped in on my wrist.
At the Hadrians, our table was front and center, and luncheon was served; Bonnie Burnham, Executive Director of the World Monuments Fund, introduced the Agnellis who introduced Ronald Lauder, who introduced David Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller was in the midst of his description of the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg when the alarm went off: M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E (you supply the tune in annoying electronic modality, repeated again and again).
Amazing isn't it, that certain tones, even muted, can captivate a large room full of people engrossing themselves in their dessert while listening to a riveting speaker? I'd worn the watch for at least two days, meaning the alarm had to have gone off at least twice, and I had never heard it. It took a moment to realize that I was source of the unforgettable refrain. I tried to cup the sound with my hand, groped desperately for the stem of the watch to push it, pull it, tear it out -- anything to silence it. Others at the table were incredulous; humor in such an environment is in short supply and chairs were heard scooting away from me into a cluster at the far side of the table. I had achieved a new personal best in both presentation and self-sacrifice.
From a few tables back came a chuckle that swelled through the room into subdued laughter. Mr. Rockefeller was finally forced to acknowledge that he was momentarily upstaged. He looked down from the dais and since I was now sitting alone and fully exposed, I held up my wrist with the offending timepiece. To his credit he offered a bit of a wry smile as the watch’s theme ended on its own and he could continue his story.
I was clearly an outcast in this company, and wary of what might happen when the social mixing began. Atonement came thanks to a guest who intercepted me as I was forcing my way to the door: He began a long conversation saying, "Like you, I’ve always thought the Magic Kingdom more authentic than Colonial Williamsburg . . ."