Giving Spirit Links Football, Cancer Research at Lombardi Gala

The professional football community lent a powerful voice to the fight against cancer at the 26th Annual Lombardi Gala, energizing the more than 850 supporters who gathered for the event.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association (left), and Vincent Lombardi II (right) present Robert Kraft, CEO of the New England Patriots, with a new joint award from NFLPA and Georgetown Lombardi.DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association (left), and Vincent Lombardi II (right) present Robert Kraft, CEO of the New England Patriots, with a new joint award from NFLPA and Georgetown Lombardi.


The Gala, held Saturday, November 3, 2012 at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., drew an outpouring of support from friends, patients, advocates and survivors to raise funds to support cancer research.

And, as he has for the past few years, DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), provided his customary passion and charisma as honorary chair of the event.

But an inaugural award given this year to Robert Kraft, chairman and CEO of the New England Patriots, infused the evening with a new layer of momentum. Kraft, who lost his wife Myra to ovarian cancer 15 months ago, was presented the NFL Players Association Georgetown Lombardi Award to honor his vision in recognizing the need for generous community support for cancer research.

Referring to his deceased wife as “my sweetheart” throughout his acceptance speech, Kraft expressed his gratitude to Georgetown Lombardi’s cancer researchers for their commitment to finding a cure, and to the players of the NFL for their support of the cause.

“I'm proud of our NFL players — these are young men with an amazing platform to do good who have put their energy and resources into helping raise funds and awareness for an amazing institution like this — Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Kraft said.

“I know that the brilliant doctors here ... will get us that much closer to ridding the world of this very deadly disease so that others don’t have to face the battle that my sweetheart faced so valiantly,” he said.

The NFL Players Association Georgetown Lombardi Award was established to honor a leader in the sports industry whose life and family have been touched by cancer, and who encourages cancer research, prevention and treatment through awareness and philanthropy.

Smith, of the NFLPA, praised Kraft for his devotion to his ailing wife throughout a difficult negotiation period between the players and owners.

“While my day and evening job was to represent the players ... Robert would go back to hold the hand of the woman he loved. He would do that night after night after night,” Smith said. “The real reason I call him my friend is that he has a dedication and a love, not only for a game, but for his family.”

Accelerating Cancer Breakthroughs

Since its inception 26 years ago, the Lombardi Gala has raised nearly $20 million for cancer research at Georgetown.

Louis M. Weiner, MD, director of Georgetown Lombardi, provided a compelling example of how philanthropic funds can accelerate cancer breakthroughs.

He described the groundbreaking research of Richard Schlegel, MD, PhD, whose most recent work focuses on a new technology that allows researchers to grow healthy and diseased cells in the lab, and to observe the effects of drugs on the cells indefinitely. This type of so-called cell immortalization has not been possible until now.

“Why is this important? If you have an indefinite supply of somebody’s cancer cells you can figure out what makes these cells tick — and use that knowledge to attack the cancer growing in that person by using the right treatments at the right time,” Weiner said. “This is the essence of personalized medicine.”

The technology has yielded successful outcomes in one patient, although years of validation studies are necessary before it is available for broader use. Weiner characterized the impact of Schlegel’s work as “proof that research advances, properly applied, change people’s lives.”

Howard J. Federoff, MD, PhD, executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center, praised the community’s unflagging support of Georgetown Lombardi over the years.

“As one of Georgetown University Medical Center’s signature events, the Lombardi Gala exemplifies what we can accomplish in partnership with all of you — a community of supporters who hear our call for support and who respond generously, enthusiastically and without hesitation,” Federoff said.

Georgetown University John J. DeGioia, PhD, also thanked attendees for their “sustained dedication to this work of service and discovery” in his opening remarks.

Celebrating Community Leaders

Another high point of the evening was the presentation of the Margaret L. Hodges Leadership Award to Barbara Schaefer McDuffie for her stellar example of leadership and dedication to Georgetown Lombardi. McDuffie, director of business development and marketing for accounting and consulting firm Baker Tilly, has served as co-chair of the Lombardi Gala corporate executive committee since 2007. She also helped start another Georgetown Lombardi annual signature event, Women & Wine, in 2006 — turning it into one of the organization’s most successful fundraisers.

The Gala was co-chaired this year by Brian Katz, Jill Kirkpatrick and Paul Schweitzer. Along with McDuffie, Mark Decker of BMO Capital Markets served as co-chair of the Corporate Executive Committee.

Corporate partners this year included the Washington Area Lexus Dealers, Diageo, Washington Business Journal, Etihad Airways, Gibson Dunn, MedStar Health, NFLPA and the Potter family grandchildren.

The dinner dance was preceded by a silent auction of more than 300 items, and once again the Lexus dealers raffled off a 2013 Lexus at the end of the evening.