- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 31, 2004

The one thing you can count on at the Lombardi Gala is that everything will be big — the room, the VIP guest list, the silent auction offerings and, above all, the bottom line. This year’s event benefiting Georgetown University Medical Center’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, didn’t disappoint, attracting 1,300 supporters despite being held three days before the presidential election.

“We’re excited we got that many people,” event planner Bonnie Roberts noted early Saturday night at the Hilton Washington & Towers. “Everybody is on the campaign trail.” Other guests, she added, started canceling when they thought the final game of the World Series would take place the same night, although many came back after the Boston Red Sox finished their sweep.

There was no lack of luminaries milling about the silent auction tables, including Justice Antonin Scalia; Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge; District At-Large Council member Carol Schwartz; and former governors Bill Graves of Kansas, John Engler of Michigan, and Frank Keating of Oklahoma (who co-chaired the event with his wife, Cathy). Also on hand were banker/sculptor John Safer, who designed the Lombardi awards, and local TV anchor Andrea Roane, who received the Symbol of Caring Award for her 11 years of work encouraging women to perform breast exams through a program called Buddy Check 9.

The major honoree is always a sports personality who, like former Redskins coach and event namesake Vince Lombardi, has suffered from cancer and is deemed to have similar “inspirational qualities.” This year it was NASCAR star Richard Petty, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the mid-‘90s and has donated land to Victory Junction Gang Camp, a medical retreat near his home in North Carolina for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

Tall and lean with a touch of gray, Mr. Petty was grateful his doctor discovered the cancer during a routine physical. “They operated and took care of it,” he said. “And here I am.”



Titled “Victory Lane” and billed “black-tie, with a touch of NASCAR.” in his honor, the gala featured decorative black-and-white racing checkerboards and large screens for viewing roaring — not to mention conversation stifling — NASCAR races as guests entered the ballroom for dinner.

Margaret Hodges, who lost her husband to colon cancer, a daughter to a brain tumor, and a brother to liver cancer, got much of the credit for the success of the fund-raiser she started in 1986. At the first event, she noted, auction items consisted of a used car and a horse. This year the silent auction was so vast and varied that a huge hall was filled with 400 offerings, ranging from 20 gallons of Duron paint to an elk hunt in New Mexico and a mink coat valued at $15,000. The live auction, conducted after the blackened beef and seared halibut dinner was cleared away, brought in $41,000 for a trip for three couples on a 103-foot “mega-yacht” through the Exuma Islands, $42,500 for the choice of two new Lexus automobiles, and $2,750 for an autographed Western-style hat that auctioneer/weatherman Topper Shutt claimed had come right off Mr. Petty’s head.

Dr. Richard G. Pestell, the Lombardi Center’s director, said that the event’s $1.3 million proceeds would go toward developing new treatments to prevent cancer from metastasizing and identifying methods to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage. “By the time we can detect cancer by current methods, the cell will have divided a billion times,” he explained. “We want to reach it after it’s only divided 20 times.”

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