Agnes Gund held a power lunch upstairs at La Grenouille on Thursday afternoon to introduce her influential friends to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which supports the development of preventive HIV vaccines. Until now, she said, founder Seth Berkley has been working “in a quiet way, but he needs to be less quiet.” So between courses of endive salad and veal, Berkley told guests including Jo Carole Lauder, Beth Rudin deWoody, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Danielle Ganek and gallerist Craig Starr about the organization which has a lab at Brooklyn Army Terminal. (“Where Elvis enlisted!” Berkley pointed out.)
Gund also invited another big pal, namely Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author of “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” Sacks has little to do with AIDS vaccination research though he did compare the virus to the sleeping sickness he encountered in 1969. That disease, which renders patients catatonic, was unidentifiable and untreatable for decades until Sacks discovered that the patients responded to the drug L-dopa. To raise funds to secure more L-dopa, the mild-mannered Sacks said lightly, “I did what I never did before in my life. I went to a luncheon.” Though he’s likely been to several such gatherings since, Sacks’ tie let on that he’s never going to be the conventional party-goer. It was blue with yellow banana slugs on it, a tribute to UC Santa Cruz, where Sacks once taught. “I have a thing for mollusks,” he explained.