Saturday, December 28, 2013

Very Smart Gals Salon

(Pictured, Nancy Coplin, Christy Pipkin, Gloria Black and Jan Soifer)

I knew that the Very Smart Gals Salon in the bar at the Driskill Hotel a couple of weeks ago would be a good one. I just didn’t realize how good.

It was great to see Christy Pipkin again, who arrived looking roguishly adorable in her leather jacket over a hooded, zipper-infested vest - imagine a Tinker Bell Amelia Earhart. As co-founder and executive director of the Nobelity Project, Christy is the backbone of this non-profit seeking to better the lives of children across the globe through filmmaking and action projects.  If you want to be inspired, be sure to check out the website, buy their movies and books, and contribute to their work. You’ll also learn everything you need to know about spitfire Christy. You won’t see her name much, that’s not her style, but you can read between the lines.

Usually when you ask someone what they’ve been up to lately, you get a canned response, “Oh you know, work, blah, blah, blah.” That never happens when I present that question to Very Smart Gals. Sure enough, when I asked Christy, after just a slight pause that clearly read, “Should I tell this?” she said, “Well, believe it or not, I flew to Las Vegas last night,” which is significantly different than saying, “I went to Las Vegas.” Then she went on as the moment demanded, obviously trying to downplay the whole thing. “One of our neighbors, who we’ve been friends with forever, has a jet, and they called to say that another friend of ours was playing a concert in Vegas that night, and asked if Turk and I wanted to go – so we did.” She added that it was totally out of character for her to do something so outrageously spontaneous. Said friends were John Paul and Eloise DeJoria (Paul Mitchell hair care) and Willie Nelson.

Heck of a fun story – however, that conversation didn’t go much further as I looked up to see Gloria Black careening around pods of people in the packed room, pedal to the metal in her mobility scooter. Just as I though she was going to ram our table for kicks, she threw on the brakes and reached up to give me a warm hug. Then, every bit like a seasoned truck driver, she popped the scooter into reverse and backed it into an adjacent nook, and moved smoothly into a chair at our table, never missing a beat in the flow of greetings. I met Gloria when she and I served on the Austin Commission for Women. During which time we compiled the history of Austin women into an exhibit presented to the City of Austin at a ceremony in the Capitol dome in celebration of the city’s 150th birthday. That history is sadly stashed away in the Austin History Center and needs to be excavated, updated and toured at each Austin school, but that’s another story. As a student at Huston-Tillotson College, Gloria worked as a volunteer for Barbara Jordan, and after working on many other democratic campaigns, went on to serve on the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women under Carter, Bush and Clinton. She also raised 16 children, all of which, she proudly and deservedly announced, had graduated from college.

Jan Soifer arrived next looking the very serious businesswoman she is. Although I hadn’t seen Jan in 20 years, we ran into each other recently at a fundraiser featuring Arianna Huffington, for The Texas Observer and the Texas Nature Project. Jan is the current Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party and is also a long-time political and legal-community mover and shaker, and an accomplished attorney at her firm O’Connell Soifer for a variety of intriguing causes (i.e., anti-fraud litigation, qui tam and whistle blowers). Jan was very excited about the Jan. 28, 2014, Travis County Democratic Party fundraiser at the Four Seasons honoring Cecile Richards, and at which Wendy Davis will be speaking. Be a good yeller dog and get your tickets here (yes, I did).

Jan mentioned that she had a very roundabout connection to Christy Pipkin through Nobel Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose work on Christy’s Nobelity Project inspired Jan’s daughter to join the “Semester at Sea” program, in which Archbishop Tutu is also involved.

The history of the Driskill came up and each of us shared our most memorable “Driskill Hotel” stories. Jan recalled a court case early in her career in which she was trying to prove her client (a nearby builder igniting dynamite to build an underground parking garage) innocent of causing cracks in the top of the hotel facade. A trip to the Austin History Center to retrieve photos demonstrating the cracks were there long before the dynamiting, won Jan’s case and a good deal of admiration in the eyes of her, at the time, senior partners. Gloria recalled the story of Barbara Jordan, Ernestine Glossbrenner, and Irma Rangel crashing a caucus of male legislators in the “no women allowed” room at the Driskill, declaring the room would never again exclude women. My story wasn’t so lofty as it involved getting a big hug from and getting to hang out with Danny Glover during a promotional event at the Driskill for the then new “Lonesome Dove” movie.

A surprise guest then arrived, better late than never, and what an honor. Nancy Coplin has been in charge of the six live music venues at the Austin Airport for the last 14 years, presenting 23 shows a week. As the Chair of the Austin Commission for Music, Nancy helped build the Stevie Ray Vaughan memorial, and helped establish the Austin moniker, “live music capital of the world.” Nancy has also booked the music for the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar for the last 25 years. This is the short list of Nancy’s accomplishments. Everybody knows Nancy and Nancy knows everybody, including the musician who was playing that night at the Driskill, Tiffany Alana Dodgen, who came over and became an official member of the VSGs. Nancy’s next adventure is Public Space Music, “helping communities bring the finest in music and show to their civic endeavors.” Check it out!

It was a short, but explosive, night full of too much talk and not enough! Thanks to Nancy, Jan, Gloria and Christy for a Very Smart Gals Super Sassy Salon! 

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