Time and again, Turk and Christy Pipkin have transformed charitable giving in Austin.
They were among the first to wrangle big celebrities — global celebrities — for their events, starting with an exclusive steak dinner graced by Willie Nelson. (How many times have I wished I’d been there!) Over the years, they’ve endeavored to put at least one really recognizable face at every table.
Their efforts have been matched locally by the Andy Roddick Foundation and Mack, Jack & McConaughey, but let’s face it, those two mega-events enjoy the advantage of A-List celebrities right there on the letterhead.
They also led the way in broadcasting to Austinites the needs of people overseas. While their Nobelity Project makes headway in Kenya, Honduras, Mexico and elsewhere, Austin these days is home to some two dozen such outfits, such as Well Aware, Miracle Foundation, Glimmer of Hope, Caring for Cambodia and so forth.
Early on, they made entertainment, too, a crucial element in their parties. For other charitable groups, recreation is an optional add-on. Not for the Pipkins, who make everything from the thanks list (rendered in just over a minute) to live auctions (ultra-quick and funny) and the videos (utterly charming and ultimately heartrending) into seemingly casual but in fact highly polished performances.
Their most recent Feed the Peace Dinner kept up those traditions. They honored runner and humanitarian Gilbert Tuhabonya, who gave one of the most clear-eyed speeches one could imagine, and singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, who, from all accounts made everyone feel like the best parts of Old Austin had reconvened in the banquet room of the Four Seasons Austin Hotel.
And yes, he sang “Mr. Bojangles.”