For nearly three decades, the annual Lombardi Gala has united hundreds of people for a spectacular evening focused on a single cause: raising funding and awareness for cancer research, education and treatment.
This year was no exception. On Saturday, Nov. 2, the gala, now in its 27th year, drew nearly 1,000 people in their gowns and tuxedos to the Washington Hilton for an overwhelming swell of support for Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
While the cause is sobering, the Gala delivered a festive night of dinner and dancing peppered with a competitive silent auction of hundreds of items, the annual raffle of a Lexus and awards bestowed on remarkable individuals for their contributions in the fight against cancer.
Cancer Fighters Honored
For the second year, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) teamed up with Georgetown Lombardi to honor a leader in the sports industry whose life has been touched by cancer, and who is committed to supporting cancer research, prevention and treatment through awareness and philanthropy.
The 2013 NFLPA Georgetown Lombardi Award went to Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was unable to attend. Accepting on Fitzgerald’s behalf was his mentor Cris Carter, retired wide receiver, NFL Hall of Famer and well-known sports commentator.
In an emotional speech, Carter talked about a visit with Fitzgerald and his mother Carol as she was dying from breast cancer in 2003.
“[My wife and I] made a promise to Carol Fitzgerald that we would take care of her son and that we would look after him – no matter what,” Carter said, choking back his emotions. “I stand here today because I made a commitment to a lady who was on her death bed … When the players association called me, I knew I had to be here.”
In addition to thanking Fitzgerald for his dedication to fighting cancer, Carter made a special plea to the audience. “I ask you today to stand with me and the players association, and not only make commitments, but fulfill them … Make a commitment today because [cancer] affects us all.”
Earlier in the evening, the Lombardi Gala committee paid tribute to Ellen Terry of the Ritz-Carlton Hotels by awarding her the Margaret L. Hodges Leadership Award, named in honor of the Gala’s founder. Terry was recognized for her work as an outstanding volunteer who has supported Georgetown Lombardi for 20 years.
“So Much More Work to Do”
In a poignant moment, Louis M. Weiner, MD, director of Georgetown Lombardi, reminded the audience that while there was much to celebrate, there was “so much more work to do.”
The researcher and physician shared the story of his 32-year old patient, Richard Provencher, a married father of two, who was diagnosed last year with colorectal cancer that had spread to his liver.
“We have employed every modern tool and technique at our disposal … never willing to yield to this cancer so he can live the life he wants and he deserves,” Weiner said.
Provencher is now enrolled in a clinical study testing a drug based on discoveries made in Weiner’s lab.
While it is too soon to say if this new therapy will work, Weiner said, “It demonstrates how our ideas [in the laboratory] are making a difference to real people with real families – people who deserve every chance.”
“This is what we do, and this is the type of work your gifts are supporting,” Weiner concluded before introducing Provencher, who attended as Weiner’s guest.
The importance of this one evening is significant – the Gala provides approximately one quarter of Georgetown Lombardi’s philanthropic funding annually.
The value of philanthropic support was expressed by Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, PhD.
“Enhancing opportunity for research and innovation at Lombardi is an important extension of our mission as a University,” he told the audience.
Howard J. Federoff, MD, PhD, executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center, explained that support is especially critical because federal biomedical research funding is in peril.
“We are very fortunate to have recruited and have in place an exceptional team at our cancer center, but the shortfall in funding really affects the important work they are doing,” he explained. “Many of you in this room have been long-time supporters of Georgetown Lombardi, and that generous support has allowed us to weather these storms.”
$20 Million and Counting
One hundred percent of the night’s proceeds, which now top more than $20 million since the Gala’s inception, go directly to Georgetown Lombardi.
DeMaurice Smith, NFLPA executive director and honorary Gala chair, revved up the crowd at the culmination of the program.
“My hope is that 10 years from now, in the same way that the great folks of Lombardi told my wife this isn’t the same breast cancer that took [her] mother, is that we can say this isn’t our parents’ cancer anymore,” Smith said. “And for the kids that we love, we hope that we have started to do something so we can tell them there used to be something called cancer. That’s what we’re fighting for.”
Before leaving the stage, Smith introduced former Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, who was in town to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Redskins’ Super Bowl XXII victory. Williams added his words of support and, like Carter earlier in the night, praised former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue for his philanthropic support of charitable events. Tagliabue, who was in attendance, chairs Georgetown University’s board of directors.
The 27th Annual Lombardi Gala is possible thanks to countless volunteers, many of whom have taken a leadership role in planning this annual event.
Molly Decker, Wendy Gagnon and Alexandra Senyi de Nagy-Unyom were auction co-chairs. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) served as honorary congressional chair.
Corporate partners of the Gala include the exclusive automotive sponsor, the Washington Area Lexus Dealers, who provided the 2014 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport raffled and won by a North Carolina supporter.
If you missed out or want to relive the evening, check out our photo album on Facebook.
By Karen Mallet, GUMC Communications
(Published November 03, 2013)