- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

Forget the Elvis impersonators and gaming tables of earlier years. The mood at Saturday’s 20th anniversary Leukemia Ball at the Washington Convention Center, if not exactly somber, was a little more restrained than in previous years. Not that partygoers weren’t ready to celebrate.

“We’re doing some cool stuff here,” event co-chairman Stephen Movius, vice president and chief financial officer of Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, told the crowd of 2,400 at the black-tie event.

Since the event began in 1987 as an outreach effort of the accounting community, the ball has expanded to include major corporate supporters such as Northrop Grumman and Mercedes Benz, which raffled off two vehicles to lucky winners. It’s the largest nonpolitical fundraiser in the nation’s capital, with an accompanying buzz that only seems to grow with time.

“We’ve outgrown the hotels,” said Michael Caggiano, chief executive officer of Falcon Title LLC. “It’s great to look around the room and know that there are a lot of people in this audience who wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for the work that’s been done for the last 20 years.”

The cavernous convention center was transformed into a setting that if not exactly intimate, managed to capture the evening’s mood with muted blues, pinks and indigos. Hundreds of tiny candles made the dining tables sparkle.

Miriam Pollin, who organized the first ball, and Joseph Kelley, who lost his wife to leukemia four years ago and started a foundation in her honor, joined other supporters feasting on grilled prawns and filet mignon as a stream of videos showcased the organization’s efforts. (Former President George Bush sent his best wishes.)

Fox weathercaster Tony Perkins served as master of ceremonies and WASH-FM radio personality Loo Katz made remarks, but the real stars of the evening were the members of the business community who have brought in more than $30 million since the ball’s inception. The payoff: more research, new treatments and dramatic increases in survival rates for the most common form of childhood leukemia.

Northrop Grumman and the Anderson Company LLC each received special recognition as “Titans of Business and Philanthropy.” Former Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Mike Ferguson received the Congressional Honors Award for their efforts to increase awareness and funding for research at the federal level.

Meanwhile, 10-year-old Ashton Stafford, a cancer survivor standing proudly near one of the tables for the silent auction, helped make the cause a personal one.

“It’s because of them he’s still alive,” said Ashton’s father, PricewaterhouseCoopers executive Shannon Stafford, who encouraged a close friend, financier Fernando Murias, to come aboard as co-chairman. “The type of cancer he had even five years before his diagnosis basically carried a death sentence,” Mr. Stafford said.

Comedian Bill Cosby, in his second appearance at the ball, charmed the audience with tales of everything from grandchildren gone wild to a visit to the dentist. By the time Mr. Movius announced the event had raised $3.5 million and Hootie and the Blowfish started rocking with the evening’s musical entertainment, the once staid and serious crowd wasswarming the stage. A few songs in, even a few gray-haired grandmothers (sans grandchildren) were boogieing on the balcony.

— Lisa Rauschart

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