NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren’s philanthropy reached back to his Bronx roots Wednesday, as he and his wife, Ricky, were honored at the Lexington School-Center for the Deaf.

This story first appeared in the June 14, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In a tribute to the Laurens for their $2 million gift, which enabled the school to build a state-of-the-art performing arts center, the students put on a moving performance entitled “Blue, White and Red.”

“This was not about philanthropy but about emotions,” said a tearful Ralph Lauren. “It was wonderful. One of the greatest pleasures I’ve ever had was sitting here tonight.”

Lauren’s motivation was Oscar Cohen, his boyhood friend from the Bronx, who was the former chief executive and superintendent of the Lexington school, which is in Jackson Heights, N.Y. Cohen’s parents were both deaf.

The new theater was filled with Lauren’s family members and close friends, including two of his children, Dylan and David, and his two brothers, Jerry and Lenny, and hosted by a childhood friend, comedian Robert Klein. The audience watched, visibly moved as the students performed an exuberant interpretation of the colors of the American flag that celebrated patriotism in an unconventional way.

“Ralph has a very American sense about him, so I wanted those kinds of positive moods about our country and Ralph Lauren to be combined,” said Frank L. Dattolo, a teacher at the school who helped conceive the performance.

Lauren went backstage afterward and was besieged by jubilant and tearful students proferring their thanks. “It was great, beautiful, emotional,” Lauren said. “I did this primarily because of Oscar.”

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