The John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary held its gala 21st Annual Odyssey Ball over the weekend at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, honoring former First Lady Nancy Reagan with the new “True Grit” award. The Special Service Award called “The Duke” went to Dean Smith, rodeo champion, Olympic gold medalist, member of the Stuntman Hall of Fame and Golden Boot recipient.
With news anchor Colleen Williams acting as the evening’s host, the theme was “Our Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” and it was, indeed, executed in a most fun, elegant manner. The ballroom, transformed into an Old West setting, was decorated with colorful wall murals, including one of John Wayne’s familiar silhouette etched against a black backdrop. The tables were decorated with cowboy hats, bouquets of flowers and little lapel pins in the shape of boots and stars, with circles of lights that glittered in the dimly lit room.
The dress code for this splendid occasion called for Black Tie or Formal Western Attire and the array of outfits was truly candy for the eyes. The contingency of stunt men, some of whom flew in from Utah, Wyoming and Texas to pay tribute to their friend Dean Smith, looked particularly outstanding in their black western gear and familiar cowboy hats.
During his acceptance speech, Mr. Smith talked about his long association with John Wayne and that he was battling cancer himself. A short film highlighted his career, including the creation of the Dean Smith Celebrity Rodeo in Graham, Texas, the proceeds of which this year will go to the John Wayne Cancer Institute.
Following a short film highlighting the famous love story between the Reagans, an introduction was made by Norman Lear who “flew in from Australia to make this presentation to Nancy Reagan.” Patrick Wayne, Chairman of the Board of the John Wayne Cancer Institute, helped the frail former First Lady to the stage. Mrs. Reagan said she was “very touched by receiving the ‘True Grit’ award” and thanked everyone for being there.
This major fundraiser brought in revenues in excess of $750,000 which will be used to support the research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute; research that hopefully some day will help bring about an end to this plague called cancer.