Big Screechers
Bravo: Big Slaute to Lys McLaughlin of the CENYC

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What An Elegant, Swellegant Party For Lys McLaughlin's Retirement.

Who, you may ask, is Lys McLaughlin? Well, when the Big Screechers started over 28 years ago, at the request of Big Screecher co-founder Dr. Tom Fay, a noted audiologist and a board member of the Council of the Environment of New York City, Lys McLaughlin, Executive Director of the CENYC, gave office space to the foundling Big Screechers organization. What, you may ask, is the Council on the Environment of NYC? CENYC is a privately-funded citizens' organization in the Mayor's Office that promotes environmental awareness among New Yorkers. The 50 Greenmarkets you see all over the City are part of CENYC, which promotes regional agriculture and ensures a continuing supply of fresh local produce for New Yorkers. Greenmarkets are visited by tens of thousands of New Yorkers every day. Another program Environmental Education teaches about environmental improvement projects.

Another very visible project of the Council on the Environment is its Plant-A-Lot (PAL) program that has provided trees, shrubs and plants, soil, technical help and other assistance to over fifty community gardens and park/playgrounds. These Plant-A-Lot gardens beautify the community and provide opportunities for neighbors to work together socialize and relax among trees and flowers. The man responsible for, and Plant- A-Lot Community Gardens' principal benefactor is philanthropist Richard Abrons, a name that has come into this column before. It's obvious that playwright Richard Abrons is prolific in growing flowers and gardens as well as in words that make great theater. On this occasion, he had the guests in stitches with his brilliant remarks about Lys, capturing all her nuances of speech that were so Lys. The other guests at my table were astounded by his one-man show, but not I, having reviewed two of his very funny stage plays "The Brothers Berg" and "Every Day A Visitor."

My wife Sharon is the Special Events Coordinator for the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC) who with Julie and Monique coordinated the retirement party of Lys McLaughlin. Lys asked Sharon why wasn't I on the invitational list. Sharon responded that because of limited space, no spouses of the staff were invited. Lys said "Put him on the list!" I'm not only your spouse, Sharon; I've been with the Council longer than you! Thank you, Lys, for remembering.

Lys, as you may have gathered, is on the Big Screechers Advisory Board, helping us with her literary as well as editing talents in the Screechers' brochures we published.

I am the Vice Chair of the Council's Noise Abatement Committee and fellow Big Screecher Dr. Arline Bronzaft chairs that committee. Other Big Screechers that were at the party that I haven't seen for along while were Mort Berkowitz, formerly of the Citizens Committee For NYC and now partner in Bold Concepts Unlimited...and Mike Gerard, of Arnold and Porter, who is one of the foremost Environmental Attorneys in the Country.

CENYC is funded through citizen donations such as Richard Abrons, and Marian Heiskell, the founder of the Council on the Environment, as well as other generous individual and corporate benefactors. Marian Heiskell's speech was so poignant and informative, that I've reprinted it here.

"Lys-I don't recall the first time we met (that is the exact day or hour), but I do remember this beautiful blue-eyed flower child who was introduced to me in 1974. Can you believe it? 32 years ago! And Lys you really haven't changed. I know you have become wiser and a good deal more street smart. You have learned how City Hall works and how to deal with community groups. And Gods knows you've learned about Greenmarkets!

I have always admired your financial ability as well as your other skills, and in 1977 when the board chose you to be our executive director-what a smart move it was. I don't think there is a person in this room who does not agree with me.

We had a lot of fun together and our fair share of headaches. In those good old days City Hall was accessible. We walked in and out at will and found the Mayor and his aides more than willing to talk to us. We never would have succeeded in doing all that we did today.

I remember so well when you got married to Tom. What a handsome fellow you picked, and in his ministerial robes he was beautiful. Then Nicholas came along, I was asked to be one of his Godmothers. Of course, I agreed, but I questioned Tom about my religion. "Don't worry about that," said Tom . "His other Godmother will take care of his religious upbringing, and you take care of the rest." Nick is a grown man now, and I can say with much pride and joy that we, his Godmothers and his parents did a great job!

The Council will miss you. You have done a superb job, and you are leaving a wonderful organization for your successor. We wish you and Tom all the best in your new adventures. We love you..."

And for some of you that might not be familiar with this wonderful, eloquent Lady, Marian has been mentioned in this column throughout the years. Do any of you recall the columns I wrote on the wonderful CENYC outings she threw at her Mom's New York Times 41 acre Estate in Connecticut or at her Summer home in Connecticut facing Long Island Sound? Yes, Marian is the sister of NY Times Publisher, she is a Sulzberger and her late husband Andrew Heiskell was with the New York City Partnership and before that Times Magazine. And another footnote, Lys' husband Tom is the Rector of Calvary Church in Gramercy Park.

The reception at Reidy Friendship Hall of All Souls Unitarian Church was far nicer than I ever anticipated. Forrest Church, Chair of CENYC is the Pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church located at Lexington Avenue and 80 Street. Forrest acting as Emcee read a letter to Lys on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg. Forrest did thank Sharon, Julie, Monique and the Greening staff, headed by Gerard Lordahl for putting together such a great party. The food was delicious; the caterer did a fabulous job. The Hall turned out beautiful. To tell the truth, the Council's staff killed themselves helping the caterer setting up the Church Hall in the short allotted time before the party.

Cathy Shea, Assistant Executive Director to Lys said in her farewell speech on behalf of the staff said, " I've often thought that working with Lys is a bit like working with Katherine Hepburn (though softer of heart and less acid of tongue.) The two share similar style, bearing and charisma, even some manner of speech. Neither has suffered a fool's day in life, though Lys has room in her heart for (even a penchant for) cultivating the company of iconoclasts, mavericks, windmill tilters, and perhaps, even the dangerous."

Quoting Lys as to what her successor should have "all of her good qualities and all the good qualities she lacks," Cathy enumerated her good qualities: In a world full of talkers, Lys is a diehard walker. Lys does what she thinks is right over what she thinks is expedient. Lys remains ardently democratic in an ever-increasing autocratic world. Lys moved forward in bold (but, never reckless) ways...starting a farm in Maine is but one case in point. Work is important, but so is a full and rich personal life. Lys makes achieving such balance look effortless. Lys understands that a little bit of old fashioned flirtation never goes out of style. Cathy's final statement says it all " and speaking of style, when you got it, you've got it, and Lys, you've got it in spades! NYC will sparkle a little less when you go. Godspeed"

NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, a member of the Council, the Commissioner wasn't supposed to stay after the Cocktail Hour, but couldn't get to leave so many Council friends present. Benepe thanked the Council for providing him with all the necessities of life when he was growing up, his father Barry Benepe was the founder and a long time director of CENYC's Greenmarkets.

Dressed in their finery; environmentalists, city officials, gardeners, Council members and staff, were all there to wish her a happy retirement and I "Thank You Lys for 31 years of tireless service." To quote Cole Porter "What an elegant, swellegant party it was," Lys, you deserved it!

Screech at you next week!

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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