Socialite Marylou Whitney will not hold her annual Whitney Gala this August, concentrating instead on hosting events and dinners for backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Course, her husband said Friday.
“Marylou is feeling very well,” said her husband, John Hendrickson. “We get a lot more enjoyment out of taking care of the backstretch workers.”
Whitney has held the Whitney Gala in the Canfield Casino in Congress Park almost every August for more than 30 years. The party, which was attended by 300-plus invited guests, was held on the eve of the Whitney Handicap thoroughbred horse race at the Saratoga Race Course.
“There will be no public event [this year],” Hendrickson said during a telephone conversation.
For the past four years Hendrickson and Whitney have organized bingo, movies in Spanish and dinners almost every night of the week for backstretch workers in a big tent near the backstretch recreation hall on Union Avenue.
Nearly 2,000 people live and work on the backstretch of the race course. Some Sundays, as many as 1,000 people would attend the catered dinners. About 400 attend daily events held in the tent, including meals, Hendrickson said. He said nearly 200 volunteers and community organizations help put on these events.
Hendrickson said he and Marylou will still attend the many August social events held in Saratoga Springs during the horse racing meet. They are often the honorary chairs at these fundraising galas.
Whitney and Hendrickson will also host a black tie event this summer at their Cady Hill Estate off Geyser Road in Saratoga Springs, Henrickson said. He said about 80 people will be invited to honor C. Steven Duncker, the board chairman of the New York State Racing Association.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson, who has attended two of the Whitney galas in recent years, said the Whitney event in Congress Park will be “sorely missed” by many.
“It was one of Saratoga’s traditions,” Johnson said.
The nearly 200 people — not invited to the formal event inside — who gathered each year outside the Canfield Casino before the party to watch Marylou make her grand entrance will miss the event, he said. Whitney always talked to the crowd and handed out small mementos to them.
Whitney has many fans, the mayor included, in light of her years of fund raising and generous donations to a variety of local institutions and charities.
“She’s queen of the Spa,” Johnson said.
Whitney did not hold her gala in 2009 because she and Hendrickson felt such a party during the severe economic downturn would be in bad taste. She also didn’t host the party in 2006 when Whitney suffered a serious stroke. Whitney is in her 80s.
City officials and friends of Whitney are planning a Marylou Whitney Rose garden that will be created near the fountain adjacent to the Canfield Casino.
“It’s really a nice way to express the gratitude from the community to Marylou,” Johnson said.
Hendrickson had a special rose, called the Marylou Whitney, created by rose breeder Brad Jalbert of Select Roses in British Columbia. He gave her this custom rose as a birthday present.
The rose is a specially bred soft pink, long-stem rose and has produced yearling bushes that will be planted in the Whitney Garden in Congress Park.
A special ceremony at the yet-to-be created garden will be held Aug. 5. Ed and Maureen Lewi of Saratoga Springs, longtime friends of Whitney, are coordinating the event.
Ed Lewi said Friday the event will be held on the day before the Whitney Handicap race.
The Whitney rose also will be planted in a special Whitney garden at Yaddo, the artists’ retreat off Union Avenue, that will be dedicated on July 10.