- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Courage in the face of cancer was celebrated Saturday night at the 16th annual Lombardi Gala, an always-popular black-tie fund-raiser that drew a record crowd of 1,400. With tickets starting at $350, the dinner-dance and massive high-end silent auction at the Washington Hilton and Towers was expected to bring in well over $1.2 million for Georgetown University Medical Center's Lombardi Cancer Center despite the event's arrival when most people have terrorism and a troubled economy, not expensive fund-raising parties, on their minds.
Benefit founder Margaret L. Hodges conceded that she and other organizers had discussed whether it was appropriate to continue with the glittery affair in such sober times. "I'm so glad we didn't cancel it," she said. "People are watching the news on TV all day, and at night they want to be out with friends."
Gala chairwoman Carol T. Crawford agreed that "people seem not just willing, but ready, to get on with things."
The Lombardi Gala's cause is, of course, just as sadly relevant as it was a month ago. Cancer kills half a million Americans every year and its most famous face was scheduled as the star attraction. Lance Armstrong, the three-time Tour de France winner and a survivor of testicular cancer, was this year's recipient of the Lombardi Symbol of Courage Award.
"It's great that we're all resuming life," the supremely strong-and-healthy-looking sports hero said of the turnout at a VIP pre-gala party.
The Lombardi center, which will use gala proceeds for education, research and treatment programs, was named for legendary football coach Vince Lombardi. He was treated for colon cancer at Georgetown and died in 1970 at the age of 57. In Mr. Lombardi's honor, the courage award always goes to a sports figure who has had cancer. Last year the gala recognized Yankees manager Joe Torre. This year the master of ceremonies was former Washington Redskins linebacker Pete Wysocki, another cancer survivor.
The evening's theme was "Passport to Adventure" hence the passport-style auction catalog and a dessert that included a chocolate palm tree astride a tasty little Egyptian pyramid. Up for grabs at the silent auction were trips to luxury resorts in Jamaica, St. Thomas and Hawaii; a week in Paris; and a safari in Tanzania.
There certainly was no fear of flying in this crowd, one that included Sens. Don Nickles and Frank Murkowski, Rep. Constance A. Morella, Belgian Ambassador Alex Reyn, Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, and Mr. Lombardi's grandson, Vince Lombardi III, a 35-year-old Seattle lawyer.
Two men bid furiously over a pair of first-class tickets to Europe on US Airways, with the winner submitting a final bid of $2,400. Perhaps a bit steep now that the airline industry is in a financial crisis? "Are you kidding?" the loser said with a sigh. "It's dirt cheap."
Depending on one's income level, the 2002 Jaguar X-Type sedan also was a bargain at $55,000. Mr. Armstrong's signed (and still sweaty) Tour de France jersey went for $11,500.
When his time came to be honored, Mr. Armstrong, who was in New York City recently meeting firefighters and police officers recovering from the World Trade Center attack, accepted it humbly enough. "It's a little odd to get an award for courage," he said. "A week ago, I was with some of the most courageous people in the world."

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