BY THE EDITORS
An avid athlete who has competed in 54 Ironman events around the world, volunteers for Lurie Children’s Hospital and other local organizations, and recently participated in Save Venice, Merrill Lynch executive Bill Fox, fits our profile as one of our city’s examples of the new philanthropist.
Pre-coronavirus, Fox was in Venice for the Masquerade Ball and then skied St. Moritz and Klosters. We asked him to share memories and photos from his adventure.
Tell us about skiing at Klosters and seeing Prince Charles. How is it for serious skiers? What’s the nightlife like in nearby St. Moritz?
Klosters is well-known as Prince Charles’s favorite ski destination. It was serendipity. I arranged for a private ski lesson. My instructor was a friend of his companion, a retired instructor, and so we skied over and said hello. He is an excellent skier.
Klosters is more low-key and private. The pistes are narrow and winding, which is sub-optimal from my perspective. It has advanced runs, but I opted to take a scenic train ride through the Alps to St. Moritz on day four.
The Kings Club in Badrutt’s Palace is a legendary nightclub in St. Moritz and a must visit after midnight. St. Moritz was more my speed—great skiing and a glamorous savoir-vivre. The après ski and nightlife draws a posh fur-clad crowd.
Describe your involvement with Save Venice. What most appealed to you about their efforts?
A 2018 Vanity Fair article about the New York Save Venice ball written by a childhood friend and former Chicagoan Daisy Prince, caught my attention. It was described as society’s most glamorous masquerade ball and a fixture on the international social and fashion calendar, attended by guests from the Crown Prince of Greece and Huma Abedin to the Rothchilds and the Hiltons. From that point on, it was on my radar.
Fast forward to December and the historic floods in Venice. I felt a call to action to support the recovery efforts. Since 1971, Save Venice has been the world’s leading private organization committed to preserving works of art and architecture with more than 450 completed projects.
I know that you are working with Jill and Richard Almeida, so instrumental in this organization. How have they gotten you involved?
I have known Jill and Richard Almeida’s philanthropic work spanning four decades from Chicago to Charleston, and notably Richard’s role as president of Save Venice. The ask was simple: I wanted an opportunity to attend the famed Save Venice Grand Masquerade Gala in Venice, and Richard arranged for that to happen. It was important for me to be in Venice and learn firsthand about the restoration efforts. Moreover, it was meaningful to support both the local economy in Italy and Save Venice through my charitable donation.
Tell us about the restoration work that Save Venice is doing and what the key projects are. I believe you had the opportunity to visit one of the key restoration sites and hear a presentation?
I was taken on a private behind-the-scenes tour at Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari where I could ask questions from the restoration team. In terms of the process, I understand that restoration projects are selected once a year, after board members gather in Venice to visit potential projects. According to Save Venice, the restorations are executed by trained conservators under the supervision of specialists in the Italian Superintendence of Fine Arts and Monuments. Save Venice reports an average of thirty restorations in progress at any given time, including buildings, paintings, statuary, books, and archives.
Do you feel that you go back in time when you go to a masked ball? I would think it would be fascinating to take on a centuries-old tradition.
Absolutely. One felt transported into another world. The Royal Garden Reverie Masquerade Ball on Saturday evening was the most extraordinary, surrealistic, extravagant evening. Guests arrived by private boat to the 15th-century Palazzo Pisani Moretta wearing exquisite historic period costumes from famed atelier Antonia Sautter.
W Magazine covered this year’s events and best described it: ‘Three days of galas during Venice Carnevale in incredible costumes where you could see a Ziggy Stardust David Bowie guest coaxing onto the dance floor the widow of the first President of Indonesia, in a Dangerous Liaisons outfit.’
Once inside the palace there were twenty-foot nymphs dancing about and four stunning female violinists playing the ‘Flower Duet’ from Lakme with a powerful soprano countertenor doppelganger of Pavarotti strolling and serenading. I can understand why the president of Disney attends the event.
You travel the world both for your work and for amazing athletic opportunities. What would you say about gathering with an international group such as those dedicated to Save Venice?
It was lovely to meet and make new friends from around the world. Phones would be passed around at lunch, and we would connect on Instagram. There was a definite common purpose and interest in learning about preserving the treasures of Venice. It was also comforting to know I was not the only person who became horribly lost in the maze of Venetian streets!
When you were in Venice, did you see the high flood waters?
No. The acqua alta high tides that were seen in photographs of St. Mark’s Square occurred in November and December. The high water mark was visible on buildings since the brackish water left its stain, but the water had receded during my visit in February. It was heartbreaking to learn of the coronavirus after my departure.
We salute the spirit of the Italian people, many of whom who went out on their balconies to sing for their country and their doctors at this tragic time. May humanity and philanthropy stay strong.