News & Politics

A Night Out: 22nd Annual Leukemia Ball

The 22nd annual Leukemia Ball was held Saturday night at the Washington Convention Center, and despite the souring economy, it was once again an inspiring and financially successful evening. This year’s theme was “paint the town red,” which more than 2,000 diehard Leukemia and Lymphoma Society supporters did—to the tune of $3 million.

Every detail of the event was meticulously planned, beginning with the food. During the cocktail and silent-auction period, guests enjoyed multiple buffets of crudités, cheese-and-cracker displays, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-worthy chocolate fountains surrounded by pretzels, strawberries, pineapple, and marshmallows.

At the chairman’s reception, top sponsors and event chairs mingled and congratulated one another on their fundraising success. Former Representative Billy Tauzin, now president and CEO of PhRMA, this year’s mission sponsor, had a special reason to celebrate: Nearly five years ago to the day, he had successful surgery for a rare form of intestinal cancer that, according to doctors at diagnosis, meant a one-percent chance of survival. “Every day is a great day,” Tauzin said.

Photographs by Rachel Cothran.

Joe Kelley of Lilly USA was upfront about the economy’s impact on this year’s fundraising goal. “We’re hurting some because of the financial companies,” he said, that were unable to support the event as they had in the past. Still, $3 million (last year’s event raised $3.3 million) is nothing to sneeze at.

Kelley proved that fundraising can be both work and play when he introduced cochair Ed Offterdinger, managing partner of Beers & Cutler, noting that Offterdinger was “the one who suggested we start our meetings with Bloody Marys.” Ever the accountant, Offterdinger cited the financial reasons for his company’s support: “We’re in a long-term business,” he said, pointing out the nature of economic ups and downs as compared with the company’s long-view approach. “People are struggling whether the economy is good or bad. Large or small, being involved with a charity is important.” Plus, he noted, “it really fires our people up.”

Back in the light-filled atrium, guests placed bids on hundreds of auction items, including a summer or fall paid internship at Niche Media (Capitol File magazine’s media group) for a bidder’s college student. Mercedes-Benz donated a slew of coveted goodies, including tickets to Fashion Week and, for two lucky raffle winners (tickets were $100 each), a shiny new car. The sponsor later surprised the crowd by offering an extra two-year lease on a sports sedan to a random gent in the crowd.

After dinner—smoked-salmon salad; beef tournedo and miso bass; and red-velvet cake—comedian Frank Caliendo entertained the crowd with his spot-on impressions of everyone from former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to Dr. Phil and Al Pacino. Soon after, the dance floor was rocking as Earth, Wind & Fire took the stage. Shaking it along with everyone else was Redskins star quarterback Jason Campbell, who danced until the wee hours with his girlfriend, Mercedes Lindsay.

The real star of the evening? There were several, but our pick was Seymour Lansdowne Jr., who was quietly making the rounds in the dark corners of the expansive ballroom with his father. Since his leukemia diagnosis three years ago at age five, Seymour Jr. has undergone chemotherapy, radiation, and a bone transplant. He just completed 100 days of isolation, during which he was unable to go outdoors. He told me what he’s most excited to do now that he’s out—play football outside—but judging by the way he was tugging at his father’s arm, it seemed that what he really wanted to do was go and find Campbell, who had visited him at home while he was sick. A volunteer wrote down the football player’s table number, and the two disappeared into the crowd.

Tickets to this shindig? $1,000 per person, pricey in any economy. Hope? Always and forever priceless.

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