John Wayne would have been proud of all the heroes that were in the spotlight at the 30th annual John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary’s Odyssey Ball. “We Can All Be Heroes” was the theme of the event, fitting for the honorees Gary Sinise and Dr. Maggie DiNome. Plus returning as the perfect host, Dancing With the Stars champ, actor, author, motivational speaker, and U.S. Army veteran J.R. Martinez, who certainly embodies The Duke’s idea of”True Grit.”
In keeping with the evening’s heroic theme, Martinez told the story of his own brush with death while serving in Iraq and struggle to recovery from massive burns. He said, “While I was recovering, a nurse asked me to speak to another burn patient. That nurse was a hero because by getting me to think beyond my own pain and recovery, she set me on a path to help others.” He went on to describe the John Wayne Cancer Institute as filled with “heroic warriors.”
More heroes included the event attendees who are cancer survivors plus their supporters, and the doctors, most notably past Odyssey Ball honoree Dr. Anton Bilchick. Of course there were celebrities, including singer P!nk and actress Patricia Heaton, but the real stars were the JWCI Auxiliary volunteers who took a bow for the incredible work they do organizing the Odyssey Ball, led by co-chairs Martha Harper, Colleen Pennell, Elizabeth Rawjee and Jessica Royer.
And let’s not forget the Wayne family. Since 1981, the family of John Wayne has been committed to pioneering cancer research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in memory of their father, who died of cancer. “We knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but when you pin your ambitions on the name ‘John Wayne,’ you know that nothing but an absolute victory is acceptable,” said Patrick Wayne, chairman of the board at the Institute, with his “failure is not an option” speech.
The John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary is helmed by its president Anita Swift, granddaughter of John Wayne, who has the goal of making her grandfather’s wish to find a cure for cancer a reality. “Nobody should come to the movies unless they believe in heroes,” Swift said, referring to one of her grandfather’s quotes. She compared the heroism Wayne showed on screen to the “true grit” he demonstrated in his battle with cancer.
The True Grit Humanitarian Award presentation was a major highlight at the event. “While recognized as an award-winning actor and talented musician, Gary Sinise is a champion for America’s servicemen and women. Giving back to those who sacrifice for our nation has become his personal quest and what he hopes will endure as a legacy of service for others,” said Patrick Wayne. Host J.R. Martinez made the presentation to his friend Sinise, who reported, “My only regret is that I never met John Wayne.”
Dr. Maggie DiNome (who is the director of the Cancer Prevention Program, chief of general surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and an assistant professor at the John Wayne Cancer Institute) got “The Duke” Special Service Award. Dr. DiNome was called “a rock star among doctors,” because of her visionary leadership. With singer P!nk, Dr. DiNome founded and chairs the Power of Pink fundraisers. Maggie’s “Superman” husband, actor Gerard DiNome (who played the “man of steel” on TV) was there cheering for her.
The Odyssey Ball was held at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire ballroom and entertainment featured great performances by violin virtuoso Lee England Jr. and The Company Men mash-up group offering pop tunes. And The Tony Galla Band featuring Billy Valentine had folks dancing at the end of the night filled with heroes. #