Fun and awareness hand in hand

At Saturday night’s breast cancer gala dinner, the Ritz-Carlton ballroom was packed with elegantly-dressed guests and hints of pink were evident everywhere, from the men’s bow ties down to the pink (white) chocolate ribbons on the desserts.


Hoda Kotb of The Today Show (centre) with Ashleigh Lund from IDG, left, and Leslie Bergstrom, right, co-owner of the Lilly Pulitzer store opening soon in Camana Bay and winning bidder of the one-of-a-kind Adriana Hoyos chair titled Tell Me Your Story (in foreground).

Entertainment was available at every turn – from Vivendi dancers and artists peppering the evening with showstopping 10-minute performances, to a capella group Singrays singing tunes such as Seasons of Love from the Broadway musical Rent, and local band Bona Fide performing at the pre-gala cocktail reception.

The night would not have been complete without the guest speaker, however. Hoda Kotb, best known for her hosting gig on NBC’s Today Show opposite Kathie Lee Gifford, was remarkably approachable and friendly as she mingled with guests at the cocktail reception prior to the gala and then posed for photographs and spoke with guests throughout the evening.


From left, RE/MAX brokers and owners James Bovell and Kim Lund, Hoda Kotb, and event planners Heather McLaughlin and Janet Jarchow.

When she arrived on stage to give her speech, she warmed the crowd up with a few jokes, particularly funny to those Today Show fans in the audience.

‘I’m going to be glad to give a speech without being interrupted by Kathie Lee,’ she said. ‘And yes, I would say that if she were here, although I probably would have been cut off already!’


Back row, from left, Melissa Ladley, director of public relations at the Ritz-Carlton, Hoda Kotb and Kim Lund, owner/broker of RE/MAX. Front row, from left, Sandy Urquhart, fiancée Natalie Coleman, director of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, and Cayman 27s director of operations Rick Alpert and his wife Julie. Photos: Melissa

Although injecting humour throughout her speech, Ms Kotb told her own story of the discovery of her breast cancer and the subsequent mastectomy she underwent to rid herself of the disease. She described a few pertinent moments that stood out in her mind on the journey, one of which occurred when she broke the news to her boss, who replied: ‘I know a number of women who have breast cancer, and they all have one thing in common. They are all still here.’

She described the process of defining herself as a woman with breast cancer – and, eventually, a breast cancer survivor – rather than letting the cancer define her. She also talked about using the experience to get rid of things that weren’t working in her life and embrace those that were.

‘I’m divorced,’ she said by means of example, to much applause and laughter from the audience.

Ending her speech, she lifted her iPod close to the microphone to play the audience a clip of a song that continues to inspire her thanks to its lyrics. Titled What If It All Goes Right by country artist Melissa Lawson, the song’s lyrics include:

‘[W]hat if it all goes right/What if it all works out /What if the stars line up and good luck rains down…’

Ultimately, Ms Kotb credited her fight against breast cancer for giving her the confidence to also fight for her dream job, the position she now holds as co-co-host of the Today Show.

In closing, Ms Kotb thanked the Cayman Islands for making her feel welcome and told the audience: ‘You guys know how to party!’

The exposure for Cayman continued when on Monday’s Today Show Ms Kotb talked about her weekend in Cayman, showing a series of photographs of the island and the gala event.

RE/MAX owner and broker Kim Lund led the crowd in a standing ovation for Ms Kotb on Saturday night as he let the audience know that she had flown down without hesitation for a quick three-day trip and charged nothing for her appearance, wanting to do her part for breast cancer awareness.

Emceed by Cynthia Hew and featuring a silent and live auction as part of the fundraising activities, the evening was certainly filled with glamour but also with appreciation, education and awareness.

Free mammogram vouchers, courtesy of Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital, were handed out to guests and a video montage featuring local women such as Barnes Dance Academy owner Susan Barnes Pereira and real estate agent Paula McCartney talking about their own experiences with breast cancer.

Guests were offered the opportunity to donate their mammogram vouchers to women who were not in attendance but who are unable to afford mammograms themselves.

The theme of philanthropy continued all night long. Melissa Wolfe photographed the event pro bono as a supporter of breast cancer research and awareness, and during the live auction the Singrays’ private performance package was enhanced with a $1,000 catering donation from Sean Collins, owner of Mise en Place, allowing the item to go for $2,500.

The live auction was one of the most entertaining parts of the night. RE/MAX owners and brokers Mr. Lund and James Bovell, also directors of the Breast Cancer Foundation, recruited many of the company’s real estate agents as spotters in the crowd during the auction. James Bebarfald of REM Services acted as auctioneer, providing the energy needed to get people’s paddles in the air.

Some of the standout items include a week’s stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Colorado in a ski-in, ski-out suite, donated by the Tonge family. Valued at $10,000, the lucky winners snagged a bargain as the prize went for $7,500. A gold and diamond coin necklace, personally donated by Mr. Lund, went for $6,500, while a large canvas painting by Bendel Hydes (donated by Sharon Banks) went for $11,000.

Of course, one of the hottest items on the block was the one-of-a-kind chair, designed by Adriana Hoyos and titled Tell Me Your Story. It featured pink upholstery and a dark wood frame, which created the symbol of the breast cancer ribbon on the back. The chair was donated by IDG and sold for $4,000 to Leslie Bergstrom, co-owner of the Lilly Pulitzer store, shortly opening in Camana Bay.

Lilly Pulitzer, of course, is also a main player in the breast cancer awareness campaign; having designed this year’s scarves for Ford’s Tied to the Cause campaign. Several guests were the lucky winners of a scarf in the door raffle.

Mr. Bovell spoke on behalf of RE/MAX when he expressed his delight at the way the well-attended event went.

‘Kim and I feel that the evening was an exceptional success with the number of attendees reaching nearly 500,’ Mr. Bovell said. ‘Entertained by some of the best performers on the island, [the night] also included a climactic, touching and very personal speech by Hoda Kotb of NBC’s Today Show. Hoda went above and beyond what was expected as she personally spent time with many guests at the event.’

The evening’s corporate sponsors were Maples & Calder, RBC and RBC Wealth Management, CIREBA, Watercolours, Cox Lumber, Sagicor General, Cayman National and Scotiabank. Other sponsors included ATC, Cayman Airways, Sybil McLaughlin, Campbells, AL Thompson and the Caymanian Compass was one of the media sponsors.

Once the meal was served and the auctioneering over, DJ Craig from Oneworld Entertainment spun tunes so guests could dance the night away: a fitting end to a fun-filled night, proving that charity, cancer awareness and cavorting could all go hand in hand.