- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Maybe we shouldn't be going to parties, donning formal wear or goofing off riding mechanical bulls in times of war. But then again, maybe that would be a shame especially when a bit of lighthearted fun can benefit a cause as worthy as cancer research.
"We asked our staff if we should cancel the event, and they said, 'No, absolutely not.'" said Charles Leiss, chief executive of the American Cancer Society's Mid-Atlantic Division, which went ahead with its annual Capital Barons' Ball Saturday at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. And why not? After all, the money raised goes toward inarguably noble goals: the reduction of the cancer mortality rate by 50 percent and cancer incidence by 25 percent and the improvement of the quality of life of those who suffer from the disease. (The 90-year-old organization is the largest non-government financier of cancer research in the country.)
The party itself is a Texas tradition, having originated in the Lone Star State as the Cattle Barons' Ball 20 years ago. The Washington region took on the theme in 2000 with the Rhinestone Round-up, and this year offered an Old West "diamonds-and-denim" motif, a bit of a lark that was paired, only somewhat incongruously, with an earnest campaign to help cure a disease that affects one in four Americans.
Numerous cancer survivors were in the crowd, including those who had worked hardest for the cause.
"In my family, we've had six people diagnosed with seven types of cancer over the past 10 or 12 years. I'm the only survivor," said ball chairwoman Kim Villanueva, who beat cervical cancer five years ago.
Despite best efforts, Saturday's event was less lucrative than in the past. With tickets at $300 a couple, organizers expected to raise $420,000, not even close to last year's windfall of about $700,000.
Ms. Villanueva said proceeds were down solely because of the economy. "We've had no impact from the war," she insisted. "Tickets were presold, corporate sponsorship was already secured." USEC, a Bethesda-based global energy company, contributed almost $115,000.
The only visible reminder that the nation was at war came in the form of beefed-up hotel security, including a handful of guards inspecting the trunks ofincoming cars.
The 500 guests had plenty to keep them busy. Each got fake money "Barons' Bucks" to play roulette, blackjack and craps, although real cash was needed to bid on silent and live auction items (including a tour of the set of "The West Wing" that sold for $5,000). Party props included a fake sheriff's office and horse in the reception area; the crowd-pleasing mechanical rodeo bull; and a wind box, where willing contestants could spend 10 seconds collecting as many fluttering Barons' Bucks as they could catch.
Fashionwise, a few guests really got into the spirit, pairing tuxedo jackets with jeans and cowboy hats. That was not a bad idea because it turned out that tuxedo pants can be awfully slippery the formally attired men who ventured onto the bull didn't last much more than five seconds in the saddle.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy attended the pre-ball VIP reception but slipped out quickly before the real festivities began. (His daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen, has been treated recently for lung cancer.) Another luminary was Julie Laipply, Miss Virginia USA 2002, wearing her sparkly sash and carrying a stack of photos to autograph. ("You retain your title for life," she explained.)
The band played "Walking on Sunshine" and "Fly Me to the Moon." People ate (petite filet mignon and walnut-encrusted sea bass), drank, danced and "gambled." They stepped up to challenge the relentless bull.
The important thing was that the show did go on. As Tom Nolan, chairman of the Corporate Trailblazers group, put it, "Cancer doesn't know that there's an economic downturn or a war in Iraq or anything else."

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