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ANN CONWAY

They Choose to Make Difference : Four tell why they volunteer to chair charity affairs, even though success or failure can depend on their vision and drive.

January 24, 1994|ANN CONWAY

Dozens of meetings, hundreds of telephone calls, enough faxes to fill a compact car--that's what it takes to plan the mega-benefits that this year will sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into Orange County charity coffers.

Why do social leaders do it? Their reasons are as varied as the menus at their black-tie galas.

But one thing they share: unflinching vision. As Tiffany Vice President Jo Qualls puts it, "If you don't shoot for a star, how do you get one?"

A look, then, at People to Watch in 1994, the volunteer organizers behind "The Phantom of the Opera" gala at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Symphony of Jewels for the Pacific Symphony, a weekend extravaganza on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Arts and more:

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Shari Esayian: When "The Phantom of the Opera" makes its debut at Segerstrom Hall on July 23, two celebrations are planned. The first, a daylight preview party, will take place immediately before the production, says Esayian, the Newport Beach arts activist who was invited to be gala chairwoman by the center board. The second, a higher ticket party, will be staged following the show.

Esayian plans to hold the events al fresco (think summer) in the large space between the center and its parking ramp. "We've trundled off to ballrooms often enough," she explains. "We want it to be fresh."

One of the most exciting aspects of gala organizing is concept development. "We're trying to decide whether to create the dark and mysterious Phantom's lair or a bright and colorful masquerade atmosphere with candelabra and chandeliers," Esayian says. "It will be dark at the post-performance event. That will really lend itself to a dramatic backdrop."

Esayian volunteers her time to blockbuster charity projects because she has "so much fun with everybody," she says. "And, like any chairwoman, I want a beautiful product, but nobody lived or died because the stamp on the invitation didn't match the gala napkins. I go at it with a sense of humor."

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Sharon Jaquith: As a Los Angeles attorney and a trustee of the Leo Freedman Foundation, which doles out $650,000 annually to local charities, Jaquith has plenty to keep her busy.

But she is organizing and personally picking up the tab on the Feb. 11 dinner that will launch "Seven Decades: Modern Mexican Art from the Bernard Lewin Collection" at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. (The Leo Freedman Foundation has made a $1-million commitment to the Bowers).

She will also co-chair the Pacific Symphony Orchestra's May 7 "Symphony of Jewels' with Qualls at the Hyatt Regency Irvine. (The foundation has made a $850,000 pledge to the orchestra.)

"I feel an emotional commitment to these groups," says Jaquith of her willingness to roll up her sleeves. "Anybody can write a check. It's more than just a money thing with me."

Guests at the Bowers' dinner honoring Bernard Lewin will include New Mexico sculptor Allan Houser, "Rain of Gold" author Victor Villasenor and his mother, Lupe (the main character in his book), artist Vladimir Cora, museum supporters and members of the business and arts communities.

Getting involved in a variety of charity projects is what life is all about, Jaquith says. "For me, it's important to understand people of different cultures, respect their differences, and work with them so we can help each other.

"When I believe in something or someone, I believe with all my heart. I'm willing to put in the time and effort and whatever financial resources I have available."

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Jo Qualls: With her corporate connection to Tiffany & Co., Qualls has a unique opportunity to bring a New York brand of sophistication to local galas. After all, the coffee table book, "Tiffany Parties"--penned by the jeweler's design director, John Loring--is society's unofficial guidebook to stylish soiree-giving.

Her involvement with the "Symphony of Jewels" marks the second time Qualls has chaired a gala in two years. Last December, she co-chaired the Candlelight Concert on behalf of the center.

Ordinarily, a corporation will donate funds to a gala, buy tables, or provide auction items. It is unusual for a company vice president to take on the responsibility of a chairmanship.

"I felt it was a way I could show personal support behind the support the company would give," Qualls says. "It makes me feel good to think I have been part of the process, beginning to end. I enjoy helping out with the creative decisions. I like the opportunity to help others see new ways of doing things."

Qualls promises that this year's Symphony of Jewels will be the annual event's most exciting. She is about to sign on the dotted line with the two musical stars of the Broadway stage ("I can't announce their names until they've signed the contract," she says) who will perform at the gala. Orchestra members will also be featured in the entertainment.

Some of the elements used in the grand opening of Tiffany & Co. at South Coast Plaza five years ago will be incorporated into the event.

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