Friendships fueled the FARA Energy Ball founded by former Outback Steakhouse chief operating officer Paul Avery, who began by breaking a promise not to tell anyone it was wife Suzanne's birthday. The crowd of 700 supporters cheered advances toward a cure for Friedreich's ataxia, a disease of cell deprivation that affects the spinal cord, then got busy netting more than $1.2 million for the Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance and the University of South Florida Ataxia Research Center.
Tod and Tara Leiweke, co-chairs of the Sept. 8 gala, invited every giver of $1,000 to a Tampa Bay Lightning locker room party, presenting a team jersey to each. Sandi and Chris Sullivan, Bob and Debbie Basham, Liz Smith and Chip Newton, plus Mary and Paul Jacobs and Lauren and Tom Pepin among many others, outdid each other texting donations of $182,000 via Bid Pal.
The live auction was another wild ride: vacation homestays in Cortona, Italy; the French Riviera; and Pebble Beach, Calif. "The more we buy, the faster we find a cure," said Tom Pepin, whose bids tallied at least $75,000, including $8,000 for an intimate concert with Rod Stewart; $10,000 for a week in Telluride and $11,000 for a trip to Nantucket.