- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Cancer is a scourge that leaves no group unscathed, choosing its targets without regard for wealth or power. That fact was very much in evidence Friday night at the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation’s 10th annual fund-raising gala, a ritzy affair where it seemed as though every one of the 1,000 guests at the National Building Museum — including former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, plus a good number of senators, congressmen and major media figures — had survived the disease or had a family member who had suffered from it.

“A lot of people are personally involved,” said Sen. John Breaux. “My mother died of lung cancer, and my wife’s mother had breast cancer.”

“I’m a member of the cancer club,” said newsman Sam Donaldson, who was diagnosed with skin cancer a few years ago. “You don’t choose to join. You get drafted,” he added, wryly.

The Bushes, whose daughter-in-law Margaret Bush is vice chairman of the CRPF board, lost their 3-year-old daughter, Robin, to leukemia in 1953. As the evening’s honorary co-chairmen, they appeared just long enough to attend a quick private photo session and make an appearance during the salad course.

“A lot of great things happen after you leave the presidency,” Mr. Bush told the crowd, “and one of the great things is getting the time to be one of the ‘1,000 points of light.’” The couple support a long list of organizations working to battle what Mr. Bush called “the scariest disease that mankind knows.”

He apologized for their quick exit — citing “a rumor that the chef was bringing out broccoli. We’ve got to get out of here” — but first, Mrs. Bush took a moment to say, “I have never seen this room looking so beautiful.”

Gala co-chairwoman Heng Chee Chan, the ambassador of Singapore, certainly worked hard to ensure the evening’s “Signatures of Singapore” theme was a spectacular success. Decorations were in shades of fuchsia, pale pink and green, with centerpieces made from flowers, lanterns and bamboo. The cocktail area of the cavernous space was dotted with displays of traditional wedding costumes from Singapore’s three dominant cultures — Malay, Chinese and Indian — including a 5,000-year-old Indian wedding sari in rich green and gold, and the red-and-black wedding dress the ambassador’s mother wore in 1939. The dinner had an Asian flair, of course, with scallops with wasabi and lemon-grass beef included on the bill of fare.

The event probably is the grandest of the city’s many cancer benefits and certainly is one of the most expensive — with tickets starting at $500 per person ($1,000 and up for “priority seating”). The Alexandria-based organization’s president and founder, Carolyn “Bo” Aldige, expected this year’s gala to bring in $1.6 million, a goal that was made attainable with major gifts from such big drug companies as Pfizer, Amgen and Novartis Oncology and the lobby group PhRMA. Raffle tickets cost $50 for two chances to win a trip to the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore and a week’s stay at Kilcolgan Castle in Ireland, among other offerings.

The CRPF helps fund cancer-related research at hospitals and universities around the country and is best known in the Washington area for its Mammovan, a mobile mammography unit that offers screening to the many underserved women in the District (which has one of the highest breast-cancer mortality rates in the nation). Mrs. Aldige explained that the organization added “Prevention” to its name last year, but “for 19 years, our mission has been cancer prevention.”

Notable guests included Frank and Marcia Carlucci; Marlene and Fred Malek; Michael Deaver; Ann Stock; Jack Kemp; Rep. John D. Dingell and his wife, Debbie; former Rep. Bill Archer; and Sens. Chuck Hagel and Patrick J. Leahy.

Mr. Leahy said he came because his wife, Marcelle, is a recent cancer survivor. “She said to me, ‘I survived. Let’s go help some other people survive.’”

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