- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

“Is there anyone in the room who doesn’t have a Mercedes?” comedian Jay Leno queried on Saturday, before helping raffle off a few, including a CLS550 model valued at more than $68,000.

The occasion? The 21st annual ball of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the largest non-political fundraiser in the Washington metropolitan area.

The setting? The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, transformed for the night into a glitzy, jazzy space for 2,500 guests in keeping with the ball’s Roaring ‘20s theme.

“This is the event that sets the standard,” said benefactor Bennett Zier, CEO of Red Zebra.

The crowd arrived to the sight of white-garbed flappers high-heeling it to Charlestons and other beats familiar to an earlier generation of bright young things. Upstairs, a slightly older but no less bright assemblage of local business community leading lights, including ball co-chairmen Fernando Murias of PricewaterhouseCoopers and Joe Kelley of Eli Lilly, circulated among the hundreds of silent auction items that included travel getaways, meals donated by top restaurant chefs and plenty of VIP tickets to local sporting and entertainment events. There was even a miniature red, pedal-operated Mercedes for the toddler who simply must get to the end of the driveway in style.

The cause of all the hoopla, of course, was the organization’s efforts to fight blood cancer, the No. 1 disease killer of young Americans. At the chairmen’s pre-dinner cocktail reception, the talk was mostly about the society’s fundraising accomplishments, all the more noteworthy this past year because the recent economic downturn has left many longtime funders strapped.

Still, the event raised $3.3 million, so there was a lot to celebrate.

Partygoers talked their way through beef tenderloin, crab medallion and an art deco dessert “bombe.” Vice President Dick Cheney sent his regards via video, helping to honor Sen. Craig Thomas, who died last year after a short bout with acute myeloid leukemia. Mr. Thomas’ widow, Susan, was in attendance.

Mr. Leno provided comic relief with extensive riffs on Michael Jackson, cats, elderly relatives, American eating habits and taxes. (“If you think health care is expensive now, wait ‘til it’s free.) By the time he drew out the final raffle ticket for a pricey Mercedes, ‘20s-era sensibilities gave way to 21st century realities. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes took the stage, dinner jackets disappeared, black ties loosened, and ball-goers who stayed past the end-of-auction flurry partied as if the night were young.

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