Michael Urie

Buss, McMurray, Ferrell join forces for a fresh, new Toast to Life — including special guest emcee Michael Urie

TAMMYE NASH | Managing Editor

“We are the ‘be,’” Deborah McMurray said of herself and her Toast to Life co-chair, Michael Buss. “And you,” she continued, turning to Joel Ferrell, “are the ‘dazzle.’”

And “bedazzle” is exactly what the trio has done for Resource Center’s 2023 Toast To Life event happening Saturday, April 1, at The Empire Room in the Design District.

Not only is this the 25th annual Toast to Life, this year the event kicks off Resource Center’s year-long 40th anniversary celebration. This is a big event in a big year.

Buss is in his second year as cochair, but he has been a part of Toast to Life since joining the committee in 2018, and part of Resource Center since he started volunteering there years earlier.

“Every Wednesday after work, I’d come over here and sit behind that desk out there and answer the phones,” Buss recalled. “I liked knowing that I was doing something to help, and it was a great way to get involved in the community and know what was going.

Buss said that he realized that if he didn’t show up one day, the center’s work would go on without him. He also realized that he wanted to do more, to be more involved. “A friend suggested I join the Toast to Life committee, and so I did. It was just such a fun group to work with, to learn from,” Buss said, “They taught me everything I know about this world.”

When he had the chance to join the Toast to Life committee, he felt it would be a perfect fit.

“Toast to Life is a fundraiser, and I know I have the ability to raise money, to get people involved and bring in new faces,” he said, adding with a grin, “I am comfortable asking people for money. I work in management, so I am asking people for money every day. Talking about money is very comfortable for me.”

While this is McMurray’s first year as a Toast to Life cochair, her affiliation with Resource Center goes back even further that Buss’. She started volunteering with Resource Center around 2000. “That’s when I discovered how embracing and how loving and how brilliant and energetic the LGBTQ community is. I became so wrapped up and involved in the community that it just became so natural to speak as if I am part of the community.”

Buss interjects: “She is part of the community’ we’ve adopted her!”

McMurray and Buss became acquainted when they were both on Resource Center’s Senior Housing Capital Campaign Committee. But when Buss stepped in to cochair Toast to Life in 2021 — the alternating two-year cochair terms were messed up by the pandemic — McMurray had to decline because she had already agreed to cochair The Arts Community Alliance’s Silver Cup Luncheon for 2022.

“But I was so glad he asked me again this year,” McMurray said. “It’s like Michael and I were born of the same mother; we had such an instantaneous connection and affection for each other. I admire him so much as a young professional — everything he brings to the table.”

Where Buss’ talent lies in bringing in money, McMurray — founder and CEO of the strategy- brand-building firm Content Pilot — brings her own special talents to the job of cochair.

“I can always get a fresh look,” McMurray said. “Any event, any document, any website — I can take it, look at it and say OK, this is how we can flip it on its head and make it new.” McMurray said. And when she did that with Toast to Life, determined to give the beloved event new life on its 25th and Resource Center’s 40th birthday, she knew just who to turn to — Joel Ferrell, the longtime associate artistic director of Dallas Theater Center.

For Ferrell, the opportunity to help with Toast to Life was too good to pass up.

“I’m 64 now. For my entire adult life, Resource Center has existed. I was in my 20s when it started, and I have loved this organization from a distance, revered it and wished I had money to give to it,” Ferrell said. “When they asked me to help, I said Good! Now I can do something to help.”

For Buss and McMurray, the best thing about Toast to Life is that, with lower ticket prices compared to other fundraisers, it is an event for everyone. Their job — the one they are sharing with Ferrell this year — is to put some “new juice” into the event.

The idea, Ferrell said, is to make Toast to Life look expensive while still keeping it affordable for all. And his first idea was to bring in a special host for a special year, so he reached out to a friend, Plano native and popular actor Michael Urie, as special guest emcee for the evening. Urie was featured on the 2019 issue of OUT North Texas and will be back in North Texas this spring directing the world premiere of the play Silver Foxes for Uptown Players.

This year’s Toast to Life will include many of the event’s traditional elements. There will be music from DJ Blake Ward, plenty of fabulous food and beverages, live and silent auctions and the presentation of the LGBTQ Community Excellence Award recipient to Dr. Ximena Lopez. And it will all be wrapped around this year’s “80s Icons” theme, specially chosen to honor the year of Resource Center’s founding.

“Michael Urie is such an unbelievably warm and charming person, and funny as hell,” Ferrell said. “But we have other surprise entertainment lined up and spread throughout the evening, with ’80s entertainment from folks around this area.

“That sense of whacked out freedom we had in the ’80s, that’s what we want,” Ferrell continued. “It’s that sense of free abandon you have when the dance floor is pumping with that music we still love and listen to. It will be all of that and whew! Baby, that host!”

At the root of all of it, though, is the cause: raising money to support the programs of Resource Center. The 2022 Toast to Life brought in the highest total so far, but Buss and McMurray and their team are determined to eclipse that.

“Last year was the best Toast yet. We raised $261,000,” Buss said. “That’s impressive when tickets are so affordable. But for the center’s 40th year, we’ve set a goal of $400,000. That’s a lot, but we can do it. We will do it.”

For details about the event, to purchase tickets or to become a sponsor, visit One.Bidpal.net/ToastToLife2023/welcome.