Jon and Mindy Gray Throw Bash to Focus on Genes' Role in Cancer

(Bloomberg) -- Jon Gray stood by his wife Mindy Tuesday night as they welcomed about a thousand guests to Cipriani Wall Street. The occasion was a fundraiser for the Basser Center for BRCA, which they founded after Mindy’s sister Faith, who carried a BRCA gene mutation, died of ovarian cancer.

"I love this extraordinary woman," said Gray, an heir apparent at Blackstone Group. "The question is, why do so many of you schlep down here on a Tuesday night in mid-November for a charity dinner?"

The answer was simple enough: by attending, guests had helped raise $7 million for the center, for research, treatment and prevention of BRCA-related cancers.

In a video, Pierce Brosnan covered the basics -- BRCA gene mutations put carriers at higher risk to develop cancer; both his first wife and daughter Charlotte carried a mutation and died of ovarian cancer. Ryan Seacrest appeared on another video, encouraging genetic testing and counseling so that carriers can take preventative measures. It will be used in an "Invisible Genes" social media campaign.

As for the center’s research: Robert Vonderheide, director of UPenn’s Abramson Cancer Center, told guests he’s working on a vaccine for BRCA carriers (which would be way less intrusive than current preventative surgical procedures), while Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of "The Emperor of All Maladies" and "The Gene: An Intimate History," stated the potential impact.

"There’s a whole domain of cancers that are likely to be transformed by this research," he said. "Cancer is a genetic disease at its very core."

Raquel Haas recalled what Susan Domchek, the head of the Basser Center, told her when they first spoke, words that became her mantra as she went through 16 rounds of chemotherapy. Haas, who is now cancer-free, was honored with her husband Michael Haas, who leads the real estate practice at Jones Day in New York.

The Grays have spent about $55 million on the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania over the past five years. The Basser Jean Bash is a way of broadening support and awareness.

In the room were Blackstone colleagues David Blitzer, Joe Baratta and Michael Chae; Bill Ackman in Lucky Brand denim; Simon Ziff in gray Joe’s Jeans; as well as Alan Hartman, Olivier Sarkozy and Jonathan Mechanic. Rodney Cohen put on a Basser Center jean jacket to complement his jeans, fairly certain that denim-on-denim is no longer the fashion faux pas he grew up with. The $100 Levi’s jacket has a pin with pearls on it in honor of Mindy Gray’s mom, Pearl, who died last year.

Gray acknowledged that the "jeans desired" dress code had probably stirred a mix of anxiety and relief among guests.

“Maybe the guys were excited to put on some skinny jeans and have their wife or girlfriend say, ‘no, honey, you really do look cool.’"

At the end of the evening, the Grays and their four daughters danced near the stage as Rachel Platten sang her "Fight Song."

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