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AFC Board Member Turns Loss into Hope

January 24, 2013

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AIDS walked into Robert Neubert's life almost 30 years ago.

It was the mid-1980s and Neubert was the musical director for a traveling musical theatre tour. His good friend Paul, an actor in the company, was sick and needed further medical attention beyond what was available during a stop in Rockton, Ill. Doctors there were unable to help him and suggested he return home to seek an HIV specialist, Neubert said. In just over a year, he was dead of AIDS-related causes.

“That was the moment for me,” said Neubert, 58, director of catering sales at the Hilton Chicago. “I knew then that we were all on the road to something very unpleasant.”

Neubert would find a way to pay tribute. For the past decade, he has served on the board of directors for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). In those years, he has helped raise countless dollars through the production of events and charitable giving. In doing so, he has strengthened efforts to end the AIDS epidemic and to help HIV-positive Chicagoans live with integrity.

At AFC’s 2013 Annual Dinner on April 18 at the Hilton Chicago, Neubert will be honored with the Lori Kaufman Volunteer Award.

 

“We all have been personally touched by HIV/AIDS,” said Neubert, his voice breaking with raw emotion.  “And these events help lift us out of some very dark hours. They give us hope and promise.”

David Ernesto Munar, AFC’s president/CEO, lauded Robert’s ability to stage grand events for important civic causes, comparing Robert to Project Runway’s Tim Gunn.

“Robert is our ‘make it work’ guy.  Like Tim Gunn, Robert is a quiet behind-the-scenes force for excellence in events and fundraising, and an arbitrator of good taste,” Munar said. “His good judgment, immense compassion and business acumen translate to unforgettable charitable experiences that both entertain and leverage needed financial support for essential AIDS-related services and advocacy.”

It was Neubert’s love of theater that inextricably bound him to HIV advocacy.

“I lost friends, neighbors, even employers,” he said. “Theater arts had quite a collection of people affected over the years.”

Neubert grew up in Hudson Valley, just north of New York City, before studying music and theater at the University of South Carolina. He moved to Manhattan in 1976 to pursue a career in theater management.

In between shows, however, Neubert found another passion: restaurant management. In his mid-20s, he landed a job at Regine’s, a world-renowned nightclub at the time. He went on to manage the Village Green Restaurant, a swanky piano bar that often hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ethel Merman in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

By the time he moved to Chicago in 1989, Neubert had built a successful career in hospitality management.

As fate would have it, he was director of social catering at the Sheraton Chicago when AFC hosted its fundraising event, Not Just Song and Dance, there in 2001. He assisted the chairs of that event, Mary Lu Roffe and John Ansehl, in the production and joined the AFC board of directors shortly thereafter.

“This was my opportunity to give back, to fight back for the people I had lost,” Neubert said. “I was able to turn the hurt and anger into a more productive mission and passion.”

Neubert was also impressed with AFC’s ability to interject laughter and liveliness into the HIV conversation with events like Not Just Song and Dance, World of Chocolate and the AIDS Run & Walk — all of which he’s been involved in over the years.

“Here was an organization of individuals fighting for something I had been deeply touched by,” he said, “and they were doing it with passion and a sense of fun.”

Neubert now lives in Lakeview with his longtime partner, Barry Brunetti, who teaches theater at DePaul University. When he collects his award on April 18, Neubert said he would do so on behalf of others, like his friend Paul.

“This isn’t for me. I’m privileged to be able to accept it on the behalf of others,” he said. “It’s been an honor to be associated with AFC and to help give hope to those who need it.”

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For more information and to purchase tickets for AFC's 2013 Annual Dinner, “A One Woman Show: An Evening with Paula Poundstone,” on April 18, 2013, at the Hilton Chicago, call Rhett Lindsay at (312) 334-0935.

Categorized under Inside Story.

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