- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The real thing

When Motown superstars Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson softly sang their hit, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” the power brokers at a fundraising dinner at the Washington home of the ambassador of Kuwait knew the crooners were singing about the guest of honor: Greg Mortenson, an American adventurer whose exploits transformed him into a philanthropist building schools in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I’m humbled to be here tonight,” said Mr. Mortenson, a burly, 6-foot-4 mountaineer whose attempt to reach K2, the world’s second-highest summit, in 1993 led him to devote his life to the children of those lawless and war-torn areas.

He noted that the corporations and business executives who donated tens of thousands of dollars each to attend the lavish dinner Sunday night raised about $2 million for the work of his Central Asia Institute, which has already built more than 130 schools.

“We’re going to take that $2 million and turn it into hope for 20,000 children,” he said, adding that the money will help build 50 to 60 more schools.

“The people in this room,” he noted, “you are the people who will be changing this world.”

Those guests included corporate sponsors such as oil companies Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon, Shell and Valero; energy giant ConocoPhillips; and the Boeing, Coca-Cola, Ford Motor and Dow Chemical companies, along with the Kuwait Petroleum Corp.

Rima al-Sabah, wife of Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem al-Sabah and the hostess of the dinner, told the corporate guests, “Your generosity will transform the lives of countless boys and girls.”

Mrs. al-Sabah — who founded the annual fundraisers as part of the work of the Kuwait-American Foundation, which presented Mr. Mortenson with its humanitarian award — added, “Greg Mortenson’s work touched my heart. … We know the difference education makes, and we are in awe of the difference he has made.”

Mr. al-Sabah said, “Through his tireless work, his generous heart and his indefatigable optimism, he has proven the power of one person to make a difference and the power of even one penny to bring hope.”

The Washington superstars included: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat; Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat and still a powerhouse on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which he used to chair; Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican and second-ranking minority member of the House energy committee; Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy; White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Ambassador Capricia Marshall, the U.S. chief of protocol; and Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

However, the certified star of the night was Michael Douglas, a supporter of the foundation and a past award recipient. The Oscar-winning actor kept up a running joke of the evening that the dinner, held on the same night as the film industry’s top awards presentation, was the “alternate Academy Awards.”

“And the winners are,” Mr. Douglas quipped, as he mimicked opening an Oscar-award envelop.

The actor turned serious as he introduced Mr. Mortenson, calling him a hero and adding: “We all need heroes.”

Hong Kong Young

Stephen M. Young, a native Washingtonian and former head of the U.S. mission in Taiwan, will take over as the U.S. consul general in Hong Kong this month.

Mr. Young, a career diplomat since 1980, served as director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) from 2006 to 2009 and as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan from 2003 to 2005. His most recent position was as a faculty member of the National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington.

Congress established the AIT as part of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 to continue informal diplomatic contacts with Taiwan after the United States recognized communist China.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

• James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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