With an esprit de corps spanning the political aisle, MD Anderson supporters paid tribute to former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III at A Conversation With a Living Legend® Nov. 12 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The gala evening raised $4.5 million for MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program.
Approximately 800 business and community leaders, legislators, dignitaries and military veterans traveled from Houston, across the nation and internationally to witness Baker’s interview onstage at the Eisenhower Theater with Bob Schieffer, CBS chief news correspondent and moderator of “Face the Nation.” As master of ceremonies, NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw led the program, with remarks by Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein, a video greeting from President Barack Obama and the national anthem sung by Michael Ryan, MgySGT, USMC (ret.). Former Sec. of State Henry Kissinger introduced Baker as “one of America’s national treasures,” and he and fellow former secretaries of state George Shultz, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton personally thanked Baker in a tribute video specially commissioned for the evening.
The event marked a milestone in D.C. circles as all former U.S. presidents and first ladies served as honorary chairs, and all former secretaries of state, former secretaries of treasury and former White House chiefs of staff served as honorary co-chairs.
MD Anderson President Ron DePinho, M.D., presented the Making Cancer History® Award to Baker, who joined the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors (BOV) in 1974 and has remained a loyal member while leading five presidential campaigns for three presidents and serving as secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, secretary of the treasury under President Ronald Reagan and White House chief of staff for Presidents Reagan and Bush.
DePinho noted “deeply rooted” ties between MD Anderson and the Baker family. The institution began operations more than 70 years ago in temporary quarters on the former estate of Baker’s grandfather, Capt. James. A. Baker.
A seated dinner at the Kennedy Center followed the program.
BOV members Tom Johnson and Wayne Gibbens, with their wives, Edwina Johnson and Beth Gibbens, were general co-chairs.
“It was a night to remember, a night of the absolute finest spirit of bipartisanship,” says Johnson, former CEO of CNN News Group. “People from around the world contributed. For one night, leaders of both parties came together, put aside their political differences and joined with us to support MD Anderson’s efforts to eradicate cancer. Because of the evening’s success, I believe that lives will be extended and lives will be saved from this terrible disease.”
Such bipartisan camaraderie is rare and speaks to the event’s “sense of purpose,” says Gibbens, an independent oil and gas producer.
“It was so atypical of Washington these days to have Democrats and Republicans coming together, and enjoying it,” he says. “At one point, with Paul Begala (former adviser to President Bill Clinton), Mack McLarty (former White House Chief of Staff for Clinton) and Tom Harkin (U.S. Senator, D-Iowa) around him, Baker feigned alarm at being ‘surrounded by Democrats’. We shared good laughs, underscored by genuine respect and admiration that transcended politics to recognize an exemplary public servant and the world’s premier cancer center.”