- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

The theme of the 17th annual Lombardi Gala last Saturday night at the Washington Hilton & Towers was Treasures of the Sea, and it wasn't just an excuse for cheesy party decor.

Georgetown University's Lombardi Cancer Center, the beneficiary of more than $1 million raised at the black-tie event, is researching cutting-edge cancer therapies derived from plants and animals that live in the ocean.

"We're interested in medicinal chemistry and nontoxic treatments that spare normal tissue," said Dr. Richard G. Pestell, a debonair Australian who runs the Lombardi Cancer Center. "The ocean is a source of this new kind of therapy."

Through years of environmental adaptation, aquatic plants and animals such as the dogfish shark have developed chemicals that inhibit or shrink the growth of cancer cells without damaging healthy cells.

This promising research was the animating spirit of the party, with octopus and starfish models clad in foam costumes roaming the anteroom of the Hilton's International Ballroom, whose ceiling was bathed in a mural of tropical-hued lighting.

The theme stretched into dessert, a rich marble mousse served in a white chocolate conch, and the bags of party favors that included an appropriately titled DVD, "Ocean's Eleven."

The Lombardi Cancer Center "is the premier research facility in this area," said Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican. "They're making a lot of progress combating a very terrible disease."

Don Shula, former head coach of the Miami Dolphins and two-time Super Bowl winner, received the Lombardi Symbol of Caring award for his charity work with the Don Shula Foundation.

Mr. Shula, who lost his previous wife, Dorothy, to breast cancer, said he always has felt especially close to the Lombardi center because of his relationship with its namesake, former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, with whom Mr. Shula vied as head coach of the Baltimore Colts.

Patricia Cooksey, a Churchill Downs jockey, was awarded the Symbol of Courage.

"Cinderella doesn't have anything on me tonight," said Mrs. Cooksey, who recently recovered from a bout with breast cancer.

"It's hard not to be personally touched by cancer," said Nancy Chistolini, a senior executive for Hecht's Department Store who was recognized for helping lead the auction component of the annual Lombardi gala since it began 17 years ago.

A silent auction, held in the Hilton's cavernous convention room during a two-hour cocktail reception, featured a dizzying array of items that included island vacation packages, wine, jewelry, spa appointments and a day with Kathlin Argiro, a Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School graduate and New York-based evening wear designer who apprenticed at a bridal shop in Alexandria.

The silent and live auctions, combined with corporate and individual donations, raised more than $1 million this year, gala officials said.

"I get a real charge out of this every year," said Dr. John L. Marshall, an oncologist at the Lombardi center recently profiled in the Washingtonian magazine as one of the area's top doctors.

"These people care," Dr. Marshall said of the 1,300 attendees Saturday night. "They're willing to fork over some money and it's my job to spend it wisely."

Defeating cancer, Dr. Pestell said, will take a global effort.

"If everyone becomes involved, cancer will be history," he said. "Together, we can eradicate this scourge."

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