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American Institute For Stuttering’s Third Annual Benefit Gala Draws Diverse Support

Originally Posted: June 18, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

Marc Bouwer, Joe Moglia, Catherine Montgomery, Sir Harold Evans, Emily Blunt and Sam Waterson at the American Institute For Stuttering's Third Annual Benefit Gala. Photos by Douglas Harrington

New York City - What do James Earl Jones, Sir Winston Churchill, Carley Simon, Tiger Woods, Aristotle, Marilyn Monroe, Roman Emperor Claudius, Sir Issac Newton and even this reporter have in common? We all had or have a form of speech disorder commonly called stuttering. On June 8 the famous like them and not so famous like me, many of them stutterers themselves, gathered in Tribeca in support of the American Institute For Stuttering's Third Annual Benefit Gala.

Barbara Walters escorted by Sir Harold Evans.

With a magnificent view of lower Manhattan, the red carpet event was held at the Tribeca Rooftop and was attended by several hundred supporters that included special guests Barbara Walters, Marc Bouwer, Sir Harold Evans, Michael McGlone, and Byron Pitts to name but a few. The evening began with a magnificent full-bar cocktail reception that included delicacies that ranged from French hors d'oeuvres to sushi stations. After the reception, guests moved inside to the gala awards ceremony.

"Law & Order" icon Sam Waterson, not a stutterer himself, served as the evening's Master of Ceremonies in honor of his friend and "boss" Joe Moglia, "I admire him enormously, particularly what he is doing for AIS by being here tonight. It is very important work." Fellow Yalie, actor and friend, Austin Pendleton, who was also in attendance and himself a stutterer, was actually the person that introduced Waterson to the work of AIS.

The 2009 AIS honorees are British actress Emily Blunt of "The Devil Wears Prada" and TD Ameritrade Chairman Joe Moglia, both who have personally dealt with stuttering. Moglia explained his life-long battle, "I grew up with a pretty severe stutter. It wasn't the type of stutter where I just stammered, I could actually feel my larynx being grabbed, so I wouldn't open my mouth. In grammar school, high school and college I wouldn't raise my hand, because I was afraid that if I got called on I would not be able to speak. It is something I had to combat over the years and still something I am very sensitive to, it is still an issue for me." I asked Moglia his opinion regarding the misconception of intelligence and stuttering, "A lot of the time the connotation is very much along the lines of, 'He or she is not particularly bright, they don't really understand what's going on, they don't quite get it.' It is a shame. Frankly, I think the misconceptions come from the fact that stuttering is not as visible a handicap. It is something that can be hidden. To this day the biggest single anxiety I have is when I have to speak."

Actor Austin Pendleton with recent AIS supporter Nancy Weeks.

Blunt explained the therapeutic role that theater played in her struggle with the disorder, "Theater was very much a way for me to overcome my stuttering. I think if you can escape into being someone else, even for a moment, I found that very liberating. It helped a lot to cease my stutter if I was on the stage. I know that is the case for a lot of actors. For me it was therapeutic, but it is personal, isn't it? Everyone struggles in different ways and on different words and in different circumstances."

At the time a Senator, last year's honoree was Vice President Joe Biden, he too a stutterer. His acceptance remarks from 2008 are worth repeating, ""In my darkest days I would not trade my stuttering for what it's taught me and what it's made me. It's been the single most beneficial thing that's ever happened to me - having overcome it."

The American Institute of Stuttering is the only non-profit organization in the United States that offers state-of-the-art treatment to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much needed clinical training to professionals. AIS was founded in 1998 and is directed by Catherine Montgomery, an internationally recognized speech-language pathologist with 30 years of experience dedicated exclusively to the study and treatment of stuttering. Montgomery shed some light on what she sees as the major misconception regarding the treatment of stuttering, "That stuttering is somehow caused by nervousness or anxiety - totally not true! It is genetically inherited, it is nerves in the brain that are misfiring, a totally genetic and physiological disorder."

Attendees crowd the Tribeca Rooftop in support of AIS.

Fashion designer Marc Bouwer lent his support to the event due in large part to having grown up in South Africa with a brother who had a severe stutter, "My brother was a really bad stutterer, actually he still is, better, but still has the disorder. He didn't have the help and techniques that are available today and maybe if they were available to him when he was younger, he might have had a better chance of completely overcoming it."

We may all not have the words we search for, some of us may be more eloquent in our speech than others, some may have a vast vocabulary, while others a vocabulary of simple efficiency. The battle that stutterers face is the simple act of bringing the words, any words, to voice. They hear, like the listener hears, the stutter in their speaking, their struggle in the most basic form of human communication. It is a heroic battle faced every day by millions of people of every race, gender and nationality. It is a battle that the American Institute for Stuttering is determined to win.

To find out more go to: www.stutteringtreatment.org.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

Updated: June 26, 2009, 11:31 am
Appeared In: out and about >> within the city