Neighbor: Deb McEneaney, Artists & Writers Prez

In its 65th year, the Artists and Writers softball game now seems such a natural part of what the East End is—a little piece of a medium-size island that happens to be a universe of talent.

The annual contest grew out of something that just kind of happened—some East End residents who liked to throw paint at enormous canvases (and sometimes even use a brush) then relaxed by throwing around a softball. The game was no big deal at the time, though the guys, like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollack, were to go down in art history, carrying out the American pastime.

It became a fundraiser when, in 1970, one of the players passed his hat around after the game for the legal defense fund of artist Robert Gwathmey, who had been arrested in East Hampton for sewing a peace symbol over the stars of an American flag, a case that went to the Supreme Court. And then somebody with the kind of mind who can put nine and nine together said, “Hey, this isn’t something we just do, this is really SOMETHING!”

Deb McEneaney came to the softball game in 1975, because her husband, Kevin, played. She has since gone the distance, tapping her endless Rolodex of friends to help out in a match that is a metaphor for what the East End has been about—artists and writers who have drawn their inspiration from a place where sky and land come together in a unique mix that has made for legendary works of art. McEneaney is now President of Artists and Writers, and has been there to see it turn into the niftiest nine-inning package of ball this side of Citi Field, an East End all-star softball game played to raise bigger and bigger bucks for charity.

She’s been working tirelessly for the game, including with the Guild Hall exhibit “Writers & Artists: They Played The Game,” which featured a collection of the participants’ works throughout the years. The June 15 premier, she said, broke attendance records for a Guild Hall opening.

“It’s my favorite thing to talk about, this game-—I don’t ever stop talking about it!” she said. “I just keep it going and spinning. My family claims that they are Number Two on my priority list! Not true! It’s just that it becomes unbelievably busy a few weeks before, with our pre-game party at LTV in Wainscott August 16, and Charity Buzz auction up online, which is doing really well!”

She thinks nothing of walking up to anyone she knows, anywhere, and asking them to donate drinks, food, auction items, dollars, you name it. “Like, I was sitting at Poxabogue having breakfast with Leif Hope, and he mentioned that the man out back was the owner of the golf course. I asked Leif if he had ever asked him for a donation. Leif said no, so I asked, and he gave us a round of golf for four as an auction item. It shows what a good team we make!”

And just ask her—she will tell you who she’s signed up to support this lineup of heavy-hitters in the arts world, and it’s a grand slam for good causes: East Hampton Day Care Learning Center, East End Hospice, Phoenix House and The Retreat all benefit. And look who’s umping the August 17 game: New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, NBC Today Show’s Matt Lauer and Dan’s Papers own Dan Rattiner.

McEneaney plays just about every Saturday in Mashashimuet Park with “a bunch of us die-hards.” Her favorite position: catcher. And this is someone with a face and body to protect—she has been a model since she was 13. But she has been gutsy for a long time—at 16, she packed her bags and left Connecticut for the Big City. She loved New York, and New York loved her. So did photographers and editors—it wasn’t long before she landed on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily, got her own apartment, and then was whisked off to Europe, meeting and working with designers like Halston and Mary McFadden. At night, she lived it up with the disco crowd in the fashion capitals.

A stint with the jet-setters didn’t stop her from getting an education. When she returned to New York, she attended college at night, “because I promised my father I would,” getting a B.A. from Fordham University in fine arts. Then she went for an M.B.A, and for the Artists and Writers’ game, “I’m using every single bit of those marketing skills I learned in graduate school.”

McEneaney lives in Sag Harbor, where she and husband Kevin, Executive Vice President and COO of Phoenix House for over 30 years, and two sons, Ian and Peter, now grown, have long spent summers, weekends and holidays. And she still “loves clothes,” commuting weekly into New York to be a “sitting model,” which means, “They put the clothes on me and I tell them how they fit. I critique the whole garment, and the designer then makes adjustments.”

Over the years, she has been catching balls and strikes from countless creative giants in the arts and softball like John Leo, Ken Auletta, Carl Bernstein, Mort Zuckerman, Leif Hope and Lori Singer. But being famous, alone, doesn’t put someone into the lineup—a packed crowd of great artists along with all the other great fans will be rooting their team on from the sidelines. “This is serious softball,” she said, “and those guys hit the ball hard!”

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