Our Town with William Kelly: Daniel Ponton honored with Civic Association’s Bill Brooks Award

William Kelly  |  Our Directors  |  Our Town  |  March 28, 2023

Daniel Ponton is known to many as the perfect host – a people expert whose intelligence and business savvy are matched only by his kindness and generosity.

Ponton has used those skills to build a successful career in hospitality. He’s also a devoted philanthropist who, after surviving his own health hardship, acted to help prevent or ease the suffering of others.

For these reasons, the Palm Beach Civic Association honored Ponton with its 2023 William J. “Bill” Brooks Community Service Award at its Annual Award Breakfast on March 22 at The Breakers. Named for the late Town Council member and former general manager of WPTV Channel 5, the Brooks Award each year honors someone who has significantly improved the quality of life in the community.

Ponton is the CEO/proprietor of Classic Cuisine, also known as Club Colette, the private dining club that he reestablished in 1982 when he was just 22 years old. He’s also the owner and operator of the popular Surfside Diner.

Civic Association Chairman-Elect Michael Pucillo said Ponton’s service to the community reaches beyond the great customer service and food his patrons have come to expect.

“He brings the same energy to his many charitable endeavors,” Pucillo said of Ponton.

Ponton is vice chairman and an executive board member of the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach and a member of the Executive Committee of the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League of West Palm Beach.

He is a trustee of the United Way of Palm Beach and a recipient of its Alexis de Tocqueville Society Distinguished Citizen Award. He’s also been honored with the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Pride of Palm Beach Award.

Ponton was also the inaugural recipient of the Daniel E. Ponton Excellence in Community Leadership Award for the Promise Fund of Florida. He is a life trustee of the Board of Directors of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and a member of the Palm Beach Police and Fire Foundation “Council of 100.”

Ponton’s philanthropy also reaches into the medical arena, where there is for him a deeply personal component. About 17 years ago, he underwent an operation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to remove a sizeable brain tumor.

Ponton used his resources to establish two chairs in neuroscience at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University Medical School. He has raised millions of dollars for neurological research related to the treatment of brain tumors.

Ponton said he wanted some of the money to be used to break down communication barriers between doctors and patients. He also wanted the fund to have a “global health component.”

The latter goal led to several trips to Tanzania and Rwanda, where Ponton funded new housing for visiting medical professionals and even set the design parameters for the architectural firm, Mass Design Group of Boston.

Michele Kessler, Vice Chair of the Civic Association, and a friend of Ponton’s, went along on one of the group trips to Africa.

“When we were in Rwanda, the doctors and nurses stayed in the most deplorable conditions you can possibly imagine,” Kessler recalled. “Dan had [Mass Design Group] build these extraordinary residences for visiting doctors and nurses, which have gotten awards from all over the world because of Dan’s attention to detail and getting it right. He gives his time and his money.”

Ponton has also created a fund at the Miami Cancer Institute to benefit pediatric cancer patients.

“He has turned sadness into gladness,” said his friend Nancy Brinker. “That is a big mission in his life.”

Brinker is a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and founder of the Promise Fund of Florida, which holds fundraisers at Club Colette.

Brinker met Ponton in the early 1980s. She recalled how he helped her plan her first wedding anniversary party at Club Colette on Valentine’s Day 1982.

Brinker’s late husband, Norman Brinker, was a successful businessman who founded several restaurant chains. Nancy Brinker said she wanted to invite people whom her husband would respect; she wanted to get everything perfect.

“I didn’t know a lot of people here and I was not very experienced,” she said. “Dan helped me a lot. He is a people expert. He combines sensitivity with high intelligence. Nobody can seat a table like he can. No one. It made me look like I knew what I was doing.”

Mayor Danielle Moore said Ponton hasn’t changed in the 30-plus years she has known him. He’s always willing to help friends and acquaintances.

“He is one of the first people I go to for advice because his guidance is always spot on and honest,” Moore said. “He is a most deserving recipient of the Bill Brooks Award.”

At the Annual Award Breakfast, Ponton said he’s honored to receive an award named for Brooks, who he said was a great citizen and a dynamic member of the community.

“The Civic Association is a great conduit for great minds with tremendous experience to assist our town in making the best choices for its future,” said Ponton, who is a Civic Association director.

Ponton recalled the origin of his charitable involvement 40 years ago, when philanthropists Anita Hamilton Michaels and Helen Messic Ross asked him to host a benefit for the Hospice Foundation of Palm Beach. The party was in honor of Philip Hulitar, the fashion designer and preservationist who died in 1992.

“We did a very Palm Beach party with great flowers and a great dinner,” he said. “I have to tell you, it felt good. Giving back still feels good.”

Quoting his friend, Dr. David Dodson, Ponton said, “There are many people in this room that deserve this [award] more than I do, but none who is more grateful.”

Dan Ponton and Michael Pucillo

Dan Ponton and Michael Pucillo

Dan Ponton and Michele Kessler

Dan Ponton and Michele Kessler


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