R. Stanton Avery had so little money that he lived in a rented chicken coop while working his way through Pomona College as a clerk at the Midnight Mission.
Sunday evening, he was lauded for his lifetime achievements.
Seventy friends joined for a surprise dinner in the dining room of the Huntington's Art Gallery in honor of Avery's retirement from the board of trustees of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens after 22 years of service, 19 as chairman.
The black-tie party also was a tribute to Avery's wife, Ernestine. The new Ernestine Avery day lily, developed by Jim and Debra Folsom, was presented to her.
For the occasion, the Huntington's historic guest book was brought out for signatures. Names of the night's guests joined those of the past including Douglas Fairbanks, Arturo Toscanini, Omar Bradley, Estelle Doheny and Herbert Hoover. The Averys, sitting beneath the famed Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, were the last to sign when the Huntington's president, Robert Skotheim presented the book.
The Huntington's new chairman Robert Erburu led the toasts, quoting Avery: "The Huntington represents the bright, the beautiful and the hopeful side of life." The quote was placed in a silver frame by each woman's place card.
Organized by Erburu, Lawrence Tollenaere, Victor Atkins, John Hotchkis and H. Russell Smith, the night called for extraordinary cuisine by Rococo and wines from Tollenaere's cellar.
The caviar tart and brioche toast was accompanied by Champagne Pol Roger Brut NV (Winston Churchill's favorite). The second course was a salmon, scallop and pea terrine, preceding a rack of lamb with sauteed fiddlehead ferns (from Maine) served with a Carruades de Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1966 Pauillac. Next came a terrine of Roquefort with walnuts and figs, and last a poached pear Nadine with a Chateau de Rayne-Vignneau 1971.
The peach and celadon color scheme was enhanced with multitiered topiaries of oceana roses growing from twisted trunks in urns overflowing with fresh cantaloupe and honeydew melons, peaches, pears and kiwi.
Memorable toasts came from Fran Larkin, Nancy Call, H. Russell Smith, Dan Frost, Robert Wycoff, Marion Jorgensen, Tollenaere, Skotheim and Dr. James Thorpe.
Smith recalled his 60-year friendship with Avery and his genius in "fathering a multibillion dollar company--Avery Dennison."
Dan Frost invited guests to look at Avery: "We see in that face a map of integrity . . . wisdom . . . a lack of pretense and arrogance." He spoke of "The Stan Plan," Avery's complex set of designs for happenings to the year 2000, and he quoted "Stanisms:" "External pressures unite; internal pressures divide," and "When the going gets rough, you get the best traction."
A lighthearted Thorpe then presented "The Staniad, an epic poem in six fits." Each "fit" ended in a robust chorus: "Stan is the man, Stan is the man, Stan is the man who can."
Tollenaere then revealed that the event will raise an additional $425,000 for the R. Stanton Avery Chair, created at a dinner in 1983. This will bring the endowment to $874,000.
Said Avery, "I was totally surprised . . . there is no way I can say what is in my heart, except thank you."