It was a homecoming with great personal resonance for the company’s former chairman and CEO, one filled with jazz music and inspirational stories of philanthropy and personal sacrifice.
Time Warner has re-christened its tribute to employee volunteers “the Richard D. Parsons Community Impact Awards,” and marked the occasion with video testimonials from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, HBO CEO Richard Plepler, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, Turner Broadcasting System CEO John Martin, Time Warner Chief Diversity Officer Lisa Garcia Quiroz, Apollo Theater President and CEO Jonelle Procope, , and Teach for All CEO and Co-Founder Wendy Kopp.
There was also a performance from the Minton’s Players, the house band at the New York jazz supper club that Parsons recently launched in Harlem.
But it fell to Jeff Bewkes, Parsons’ successor as head of the media giant, to elucidate the decision to rename the awards.
“When we thought about what to name the awards…there was really no choice,” he said. “It was a man sitting right here who is not only a great businessman, a great philanthropist and a great mentor to many of us, including me, and who personifies the values that we hold dear at Time Warner. I can’t think of anyone who would more deserve and honor us to allow his name for these awards than Dick Parsons.”
For the last 32 years, the awards were called the Andrew Heiskell Community Service Awards, and were named for the late chairman and CEO of Time Inc. Those awards will go with the publishing company following its spin-off this Friday.
The Parsons awards, Bewkes noted, recognize people that “take the time to make a difference in the communities in which they work and live.”
Recognizing a tradition of charitable giving was something that Parsons said he was comfortable lending his name to.
“For me, this is a singular honor to have this award being given in my name,” Parsons said. “I never asked for anything to be named after me, not a building or a driveway, a hallway or anything like that. I flirted with the idea of having the cafeteria doing the Dick Parsons burger but I passed on that.”
This year’s group of honorees tackled a range of community issues from sickle cell disease to legal aide for domestic violence victims to K9 rescue. To acknowledge their contributions, Time Warner donates $5,000 to the charity of their choice. Despite the seriousness of some of the charitable organizations’ missions, the event was loose and free-wheeling, with Bewkes frequently ad libbing, as he engaged with the audience and the honorees.
The winners were drawn from all across the media company’s various divisions. Among the honorees were Michael Rowell, a shift supervisor for traffic at Turner, who got involved with Open Hand after his son was diagnosed with sickle cell disease. Open Hand provides nutritious meals to underprivileged people who are dealing with chronic, critical or terminal diseases. Rowell also received the excellence in service award, a distinction that came with an additional $5,000 donation to his charitable cause.
Joe Raiola, senior editor of MAD Magazine, was recognized for his work as executive/artistic director of Theater Within, an organization that has provided five million meals for people in need across 22 countries. The group was inspired by the message of peace and hope in John Lennon’s music and is also involved in an annual tribute concert to the pop star that raises money for local and international charities.
Having lost her own mother to domestic violence, Sandra Edmund, a legal administrative assistant at Time Warner, was inspired to help an undocumented woman, who was a domestic violence victim, obtain permanent residence status. Edmund was honored at Tuesday’s ceremony for her work on that case and her involvement in the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children Project.
Paul Ruszczyk’s wife couldn’t be at Tuesday’s luncheon to watch him accept his award because she was home looking after his sick dog. That was fitting, because Ruszczyk’s love of dogs inspired him to become a founding member of Alpha Team K9 Search and Rescue. The group helps law enforcement and emergency response teams by providing dogs trained to look for missing people, murder and drowning victims.
Stuart Stefani, a fire marshal at Warner Bros., was honored for using his training to help form Firefighters QUEST for Burn Survivors. The group offers financial support for specialized equipment, bandages, medicine, cosmetic surgeries and trips to specialized hospitals to help burn victims.
In addition, four HBO employees — Preston DeFrancis, Kary Antholis, Jeannie Koenigsberg and Brad Saunders — received a team award for their work with the Young Storytellers Foundation. The group works with middle-school students to improve literacy and writing skills. As part of the program, students develop and refine screenplays in preparation for “The Big Show,” a showcase of their original work performed by professional actors.
In his remarks, Parsons paid tribute to the day’s honorees, saying he was humbled to be in their company.
“This really resonates with me because to be in the company of good people, of honorable people, to be associated with people who have done things that are extraordinary and for others, it is the greatest honor you can have,” he said.