Scene Last Night: Honoring Riley with Barbecue, Bunny Ears

By: Sonali Basak, Bloomberg News | March 13, 2015

(Bloomberg) — Almost 500 people stood shoulder-to-shoulder to hear Ian Sandler speak about his daughter on Thursday night. Some wore bunny ears.

Riley Sandler, who was 9 when she suffered respiratory arrest and died at summer camp in August, used to wear them too. Her parents rounded up friends, family and Wall Street colleagues to help the Riley Sandler Memorial Foundation spread her spirit.

“Riley was many things, but what she really was was a great friend, so we’re going to focus on that,” her father, the chief operating officer of global equities at Citadel, told them in the basement of Hill Country Barbecue Market in Manhattan.

Brandon Haley, Citadel’s former equities chief, and John Horner, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s head of investor services, were there to help raise $400,000. Guests bid in a silent auction for makeovers at Saks, a private tour of Yankee Stadium and a week’s vacation at an Italian villa. Sponsorships and ticket sales contributed to the sum.

Auctioneer CK Swett ran the bidding for a trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands and dinner at home for 12 prepared by the chef at Rao’s. Before that, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, who led the Hanukkah blessing at the White House in December, gathered a choir of girls to sing Anna Kendrick’s “Cups.”

Mason jars, livestock signs and cowboy boots lined the walls at the Chelsea restaurant, where digital screens displayed photos of Riley in rose-colored sunglasses or mimicking her dad’s back-bridge yoga pose. Pictured next to her mother, Mackenzie, their eyes both twinkled and their smiles were nearly identical.

Empathy Rewards 

The foundation provides participating New York City schools with $20,000, helping fund prizes awarded to third- or fourth-graders who show kindness and the ability to be a good friend. A portion of each Riley’s Way Award goes toward the student’s higher education, with the rest going to the school. The winning student is responsible for working with classmates and the school to help determine how that grant can be used to foster empathy.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers tax adviser Puneet Arora, sporting bunny ears, said he came because of the impression Riley made on his child at The Nightingale-Bamford School.

JPMorgan’s Horner, a member of the foundation’s board, said his daughter had started a sleep-over club with Riley that sometimes included 50 friends, corralled by four “board members” directed by the young Sandler.

She was at home on Wall Street too, said Haley, who met Riley a year ago when she arrived at Citadel’s 28th-floor offices. “She walked up there and she shook my hand and spun around and told me how excited she was to go to summer camp,” he said. “And I was struck by her joy, her ability to articulate” what she wanted out of that experience, he added.

Fries and Fabrics 

The foundation’s board includes Horner, Haley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Gerard O’Connor and Paul Burke, the head of Nightingale-Bamford. The team had raised more than $1.46 million prior to Thursday’s event, with sponsors including Citigroup Inc. donating more than $20,000 and Bank of America Corp. and Jefferies Group about $10,000 each. Bloomberg Philanthropies has provided a grant for the foundation’s work.

Sandy Lee, a co-founder of Eight Seven Capital, said Riley shared her dad’s ability to captivate people. Lee remembered eating Shake Shack fries with Riley, visiting the Museum of Mathematics and talking about fabric at Marimekko.

Lee said that all of the members of the 20-person team she worked in with Ian Sandler at Morgan Stanley attended, including Edgar Sabounghi, who has recently retired, and Edward Yu, who now works at Column Park Asset Management and formed his own non-profit, the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation.

The kindness was contagious, said Lindsey Saracena of Mirror NYC, who designed the foundation’s bunny-ears logo and sifted through the family’s mementos to capture Riley’s spirit.

“An adult wearing bunny ears has nowhere to go but smile,” she said.