A Tale Of Two Rachels
Gary Nager (author)
Location(s): Lowry Park Zoo
I have to admit that I had a pretty good weekend my last non-deadline weekend (Nov. 4-6), although it was busy. After the party for Dr. Nicole Mitchell (see previous blog) on Friday, I had two events to attend on Saturday...and both involved women named Rachel. Concidence? Maybe!
I started Saturday evening at Lowry Park Zoo's 25th annual "Zoofari," which is not only the zoo's largest annual fund raiser but also one of the best events you can attend anywhere. With food from more than 50 outstanding restaurants, adult beverages included with admission and none other than Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason (who? More on him below) as the headline entertainment, this year's Zoofari was probably the best one I've been to -- although I think I've said that every year I've attended.
The first of the two Rachels I mentioned is Lowry Park Zoo public relations director Rachel Nelson. I planned to call Rachel a couple of days before the event to see if I could get a media credential, but I happened to stop in on Frame By Frame Art Gallery & Framing in the City Plaza at Tampa Palms shopping center and mentioned to owner Steve Rothfarb that I was thinking about going and he had Rachel call me back the same day.
Steve is a huge supporter of Lowry Park Zoo who has put together a spectacular "Go Wild at the Zoo Art Safari" during Zoofari each of the last three years. As scenic as Lowry Park is when all of the animals are on display, it's perhaps even more impressive with its walkways filled with delicious restaurants interspersed with beautiful works of art, with many of the artists themselves on hand to chat with you. And this year, much of the art was located in the same area as not only the zoo's entrance end exit, but also right next to the stage where Mason and '70s Brit pop singer Al Stewart ("Year of the Cat," "Time Passages") and other entertainment acts performed. "We think it was our best location for the Art Safari yet," Steve said during Zoofari. "The artists have had a lot more foot traffic this year."
The entertainment wasn't limited to the main stage, however. As always, Zoofari offered multiple stages with great local acts near both the Rhino Club VIP area and near the separate Wallaroo Station Sweet Safari dessert area. One of the things that makes Zoofari both unique and difficult to take it all in is how spread out everything is. There are great restaurants in every corner of the place and I know I didn't get to sample them all because I didn't want to miss Mason, an original member of the band Traffic, which of course, also featured vocalist Stevie Winwood. I was an even bigger fan of Mason's solo career, but it was awesome hearing Dave play and sing everything from "Feelin' Alright" to "Let It Go, Let It Flow."
Of the food I did get to sample, I have to say that one of my favorites was the seared tuna from Mitchell's Fish Market in the Rhino Club VIP room, where the lines were shorter and you get to enjoy just a few restaurants and bars in air conditioned comfort, although the weather outside was far from frightful for Zoofari. I also loved the blackened scallops and grouper "bites" from The Rusty Pelican, the sushi from The Rack and Longhorn Steakhouse's sirloin steak tips. The desserts were unbelievable, including the decadent cupcakes from Chantilly Cakes, which to me, were better than the also-good, giant 10' x 10' cake created by 20+ culinary students at The Art Institute of Tampa that was selected as the evening's "Best of Show" winner.
No matter what kind of appetizer, main course or dessert you wanted, Zoofari again had something delicious in one of the most perfect settings imaginable....as nearly 3,000 people found out this year, helping the zoo raise roughly $116,000. If you've never been, picture taking a nature walk with a valet serving you delectable treats as you stroll and you almost get the idea. I can't wait for next year's Zoofari, as well as "Wazoo," held in August, which is one of the nation's premier beer-and-food festivals.
Lowry Park Zoo is located at 1101 W. Sligh Ave. For more info about the zoo, it's ongoing and changing exhibits and events at the zoo, call 935-8634 or visit LowryParkZoo.com.
The other Rachel I have to give a shout out to is my long-time friend and colleague Dr. Rachel Haviland, Ph.D. I had known Rachel, who also is the president of the New Tampa Chamber of Commerce and who also owns her own social media marketing company,and her husband Peter Haviland for several years before she became the Chamber president, having actually done some advertising business with Pete before I met her. Despite spending so much of the evening at the zoo, I knew I still wanted to also attend her Ph.D. Party at the Daiquiri Deck on Madeira Beach the same evening. So, as soon as Mason was off the stage, I was on my way to share her joy with her friends.
Rachel, who still has her delightful native London accent despite her years in the U.S., is one of the sweetest, smartest, sassiest people I know and she has been working on her doctoral thesis ("Identification of Novel STAT3 Target Genes Associated with Oncogenesis") for so long (at least, seemingly) that many of her friends over the years have kidded her that perhaps it was never going to be completed.
But, our mutual friend Joyce Gunter of Gunter & Gunter Insurance truly understood why it took Rachel so long to complete her doctorate. Joyce attended Rachel's defense of her thesis in front of a panel of USF science professors (there were four committee members, including Rachel's two mentors -- Dr. Richard Jove, Director, Beckman Research Institute & Deputy Director for Basic Research, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, Duart, CA and Dr. W. Doug Cress, Associate Professor, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute -- as well as her external chairperson, Dr. James Turkson, Professor at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center) and summed up the experience by saying, "I was stunned. We all knew Rachel was smart, but in the first five or ten minutes of her defense, she used about a dozen words I never heard before. By the end of the hour, I was drained, having lost count of all the words I had never heard before, but Rachel was still smiling. And of course, the panel unanimously approved her thesis."
Congratulations, Dr. Haviland. Bravo!