Barnstable Brown Family Takes Pride in Supporting UK Diabetes Center Via Their World-Famous Derby Eve Party
It isn't uncommon in the Bluegrass to celebrate the Kentucky Derby by having friends come to your home for a party.
But if you are Chris Barnstable-Brown, the family party just happens to have a guest list of about 1,200, including performer Kid Rock and members of Boyz II Men, as well as sports figures such as NFL quarterback Aaron Rogers and a host of former University of Kentucky and University of Louisville basketball players.
Chris Barnstable-Brown is the son, grandson and nephew of the founders of the Barnstable Brown Kentucky Derby Eve Gala in Louisville that include his mother Patricia "Tricia" Barnstable Brown, his late father Dr. David E. Brown, his Aunt Priscilla "Cyb" Barnstable, and his grandmother, Wilma Barnstable.
Now in its 28th year, the annual bash is internationally recognized as the “premier” Kentucky Derby gala and counted among the “10 Best Parties in the World” by Condé Nast.
Along with being a famed party destination for celebrating the night before the running of the Kentucky Derby, the celebrity-packed gala also has a greater purpose and has raised more than $11 million for the University of Kentucky's Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center.
Chris began attending the family's party from its early beginnings when he was about 5 years old. "My involvement has expanded since then," he said with a laugh, "but my main role is, and always has been, is to support my mom, grandmother and my aunt who deserve so much credit for putting something on that has been completely remarkable now for nearly three decades."
The Derby Eve Gala is held at the home where he was raised in the Highlands area of Louisville and where his mom Tricia still lives. "As a kid growing up I had a very normal, average life but then one week out of the year our house was transformed for a party for a thousand people and it was just this very surreal experience," he said. "I learned early on that the celebrities were just normal people and many of them are very down to earth and they like coming to Kentucky, to the Derby and supporting the charity."
Today, Chris lives in New York City with his wife and two daughters, 2-year-old Caroline and 4-month-old Catherine. Earlier this week from his Manhattan office he was fielding calls and emails from media and celebrities for the Derby Eve Gala all in addition to his work as an attorney specializing in mergers, acquisitions and corporate finance.
"I won't be getting to Louisville as soon as I like this year with the two little ones at home but I'm doing what I can from here," he said. "It really is a family affair and everyone pitches in and can be found doing everything from sweeping floors to hanging decorations."
Preparing for the party is "as crazy as you think it would be getting ready for 1,000 people in your home," he said. "There's a lot of motion and commotion but surprisingly these days it is also almost calm because we've been doing it so long everyone knows what to do and how to bring it all together."
Once the party begins on Friday evening, Chris will shake the hand and greet every single person who comes to the party, a job he says he inherited from his father. "After all they are entering our family's home," he said. He also handles the media and makes sure celebrities make it to the red carpet. Later in the evening he will sneak a bite of food - if time allows - then his job is just to keep the party going and accommodate his guests.
"Inevitably, it is also my job in the family to be the last person awake — even though there is security, someone needs to make sure everything is ready for the next day, (the actual running of the Kentucky Derby)."
Although Chris now calls New York home, he says there is no doubt that the event is a "Kentucky party." "Having people to our family home is part of the Southern charm of the evening and we've never wanted to move to a hotel ballroom or other venue and lose that uniqueness and elegance that attracts people from all over the world to Louisville and to Kentucky."
While raising money for diabetes is huge component of the party for the family, Chris said for their guests, they focus on providing them a ‘let your hair down and have a good time' atmosphere.
"The approach we like to take for the party is, we want everyone to come and have a good time and then from that we have been able to turn it into something that is really meaningful," he said. "We like that the success of the party means people want to come back year after year, not only to support the party but the charity and that's really what we take the most pride in."
Chris' father, the late Dr. David Brown, died from complications of diabetes in 2003. "The thing no one realizes or often remembers is we actually started benefiting diabetes even before my dad was diagnosed," he said. "It (diabetes) ran in his family but he was diagnosed after the parties began."
Since Brown's death, the Barnstable Brown family has made not only the essential initial investment to create the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center at UK but has provided continuous support since 2008 via proceeds from the Derby Eve Gala.
In Kentucky and in the U.S., diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability. Both types 1 and 2 diabetes are associated with complications that threaten quality of life and are the leading cause of adult blindness, end-stage kidney disease and nontraumatic lower-extremity amputations. But it doesn’t have to be that way, the UK's Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center — a leader in prevention, education, research, and comprehensive care — improves the lives of those impacted by diabetes.
"Our family takes a lot of pride in doing whatever small part we can in supporting this work at UK to combat this disease that is near and dear to us."