All you need is "love" as a theme when your fundraiser bears the name of St. Valentine. But it certainly helps when the event includes a gorgeous fashion show, glasses of bubbly, and a cause near and dear to many hearts.
More than 520 Dallasites showed the love — by bundling up on the coldest day of February — for the 36th Annual St. Valentine's Day Luncheon and Fashion Show. The event benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's mission to find cures for blood cancers and provide support to patients and their families.
After a couple of years at a different location, the whole affair moved back to the Meyerson Symphony Center, under the leadership of chair Nikki Webb.
Following a champagne reception in the foyer, the crowd — dressed in fun and flirty pink, red, and purple attire — filed into the concert hall for a moving presentation. Longtime Dallas news anchor and event emcee Clarice Tinsley set the tone when she welcomed guests, saying, "On this cold North Texas day, don't we have wonderful warm hearts?"
Webb acknowledged honorary chairs Peggy and Carl Sewell, as well as advisory chairs Nancy Gopez and Maggie Kipp and other members of the host committee.
The inaugural Icon Award was presented to Jan Strimple, legendary Dallas model and fashion event producer. After brief remarks, she hurried back offstage to helm the forthcoming fashion show. Awards also were given to Rusty and Bill Duvall (Lynda Adleta Heart of Gold Award); Zach Guillot (Memorial Hero Award); and 12-year-old Luke Allred (Spirit of Tom Landry Character Award).
Award-winners or family representatives gave emotional and impassioned remarks that left many in the audience reaching into their handbags for tissues. For example, Julie Guillot, the the mother of Zach Guillot — who lost his three-time battle against leukemia six years ago — is serving as the Chair for LLS' newly launched Children's Initiative. She talked of their goal to develop new, less toxic treatments for pediatric cancers.
The memory of Zach, along with Jack Duffy, Isaac Shin, and last year's Spirit of Tom Landry Awardee, Luke Laufenberg, were honored as those who valiantly fought but succumbed to cancer.
Through tears, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and TV sports personality Babe Laufenberg recalled son Luke's brave fight and urged patrons to open their hearts to support LLS' vital mission. At last year's St. Valentine's Luncheon, Luke — then a tight-end on the University of Texas at El Paso football team — was Skyped in to accept the Landry award. Sadly, his cancer came back and Luke passed away at the age of 21, on August 22, 2019.
"We lost him, but trust me, his spirit lives on — just like these other children — and his memory lives on," Laufenberg said. "We couldn't change Luke's outcome, but we can change the outcome for the kids who are coming behind him."
Past Spirit of Tom Landry Awardees and cancer survivors Jude Cobler, Kaitlyn Johnson, Bennett Williams, and Zach Rigby joined the group onstage, spelling out with signs what love truly can do: find cures.
Fashion show sponsor NorthPark Center and its retailers then previewed the hottest spring fashions by Fabiana Filippi, Canali, Janie and Jack, Ted Baker, Kate Spade, and Neiman Marcus. Always a highlight, the children models drew the most applause from the crowd as they held up signs saying "What Love Can Do," in line with the theme for the event.
After the fashion show, attendees sat down to a delectable meal of mixed field greens salad with goat cheese and dried cherries; grilled herb-crusted chicken breast with Zinfandel demi-glace, spinach, and feta potato tart; and for dessert, a trio of mini flourless chocolate torte, fruit tart, and white chocolate mousse. The deft servers never left wine or water glasses empty.
During lunch, guests had one last chance to purchase raffle tickets for fabulous prize packages, including dinner and symphony tickets; beauty and spa treatments; NorthPark shopping sprees; and even a trip to Los Angeles for a taping of The Late Late Show with James Corden.
Spotted in the crowd, enjoying the event, were notable attendees Nancy Nasher, Kristen Gibbins, Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, Paula Acosta, Anne Bass, Kim Hext, Melissa Cameron, Kate Rose Marquez, Melissa Sherrill, Kelly Perkins, Jennifer LeLash, Diane Fulinghim, Wendy Messman, Melinda Knowles, Amy Camp, Lisa Singleton, Clarence Hill, and Crayton Webb.
While totals are still being tallied from this year's event, since its inception, the St. Valentine's Day Luncheon and Fashion Show has raised over $12 million for LLS' mission.