Inside the beautiful North Dallas home of Pam and John Borders on Thursday, April 4, you could almost feel the excitement building for the 2013 A.W.A.R.E. Luncheon & Auction that would take place the next day. You might call the Borders’ patron party a teaser before the main event—the big, annual, mid-day fundraiser at the Hilton Anatole for the Greater Dallas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
There were stars of commerce and show business at the Borders house, after all, from Maryellen and Ron Spears of AT&T and Betty and John Crawford of DowntownDallas Inc., to WFAA Daybreak host Ron Corning, actor/playwright Anthony Wilkinson and actress Linda Gray, who would star at Friday’s luncheon.
Becky Prince, president of the Greater Dallas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s group, came up to Corning and said, “I watch you every morning.” Wilkinson said he was looking forward to the opening of his second off-Broadway show, My Big Gay Italian Funeral, in New York on June 1. It’s a sort of sequel to Anthony’s long-running My Big Gay Italian Wedding.
Gray, meantime, had showbiz on her mind as well—namely, the fate of the Dallas remake she’s starring in on TNT as Sue Ellen Ewing, the wife of J.R. Ewing, played of course by the late Larry Hagman. The cast had just “wrapped” the show’s second season and was waiting for word about a third, Linda said. After enjoying the city of Dallas during filming, she added, she was looking forward to resting and seeing her family on her “ranch” in L.A.’s Valley area. Her cat is also looking forward to the ranch, she laughed: “He’s in the condo here, and hasn’t had a mouse in six months!”
Then, during brief remarks, Patron Party Chair Carmaleta Whiteley reminded attendees about the serious purpose of the A.W.A.R.E. luncheon, pointing out that Alzheimer’s has the “highest cost” of the major ailments. “Cancer and heart disease are the biggest killers, but families with Alzheimer’s, and society, pay approximately $215 billion a year on care for loved ones,” Carmaleta explained. “Another recent study said that one in every three people will suffer from dementia. That is why it is so important that you are here tonight, and have contributed to the care and research for this horrible disease.”
Some 850 attendees took Whiteley’s words to heart the next morning at the Anatole, where luncheon guests perused the silent auction items and chatted just outside the Chantilly Ballroom. Ramona Jones seemed tired after a frenzy of recent activity, for causes including the Dallas Arboretum, the Salvation Army, and the Eye Ball for UT Southwestern. Patricia Will, president and CEO of Belmont Village Senior Living, was up from Houston and excited about the company’s new Turtle Creek facility, which will open this summer. Jack Jacobs was complaining about being one of the few men at the luncheon. “About every five minutes another one goes by,” he muttered. But there was another man close by Jack, and quite the “hunk” at that: Lee Majors, the actor who starred in TV shows like The Fall Guy and The Big Valley. Majors, who was accompanied by his wife Faith, an actress and model, said he’d just appeared on Dallas with Gray and was here because his mother died of Alzheimer’s, among other reasons.
Then it was time for the lunch (spring vegetable and goat cheese tart, braised chicken and pearl onions, fresh asparagus, chocolate strawberry shortcake) and the program, which was introduced by Corning of Channel 8. “There is no place in the country where they have more pre-events [for charity affairs] than Dallas,” Ron marveled as an icebreaker. “You could literally almost have Alzheimer’s and never forget that there’s another event!”
Next Corning brought on Kay Hammond, the 2013 A.W.A.R.E. president, and Laurie Kidder, the 2013 luncheon chair. After Becky Prince said the luncheon had raised more than $13 million for Alzheimer’s research since its inception, singer Rudy Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers—he is Hammond’s former son-in-law—sang the invocation. Rudy was joined at the end of the prayerful tune by Sam Harris, the singer and actor who got his start on Star Search.
The title of Linda Gray’s talk was “Remembering Larry Hagman and Honoring Maj Hagman.” (The Swedish-born Maj, Larry’s widow, has had Alzheimer’s for several years.) Recalling stories, showing video clips, and describing photos from Hagman’s life that were displayed on the room’s giant screens, Gray told of the close, mutually respectful relationship that she and Larry shared for 35 years.
“Linda is my best friend—the perfect woman,” Hagman said of Gray in one clip. “She is the greatest leading lady a man could ever want.” Gray returned the compliment: “It was as if we were married in other lifetimes.”
Linda and Maj—married to Hagman for 52 years and the “rock” of his life—called each other “wife,” Gray recalled with a smile. Maj was strong and feisty and kept it all together, she said, “because, basically, Larry was 5 years old!”
Maj was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, Linda said, “and it’s very challenging to be with her now.
“My mother had early Alzheimer’s, but my mom always remembered me,” Gray went on. “Once when we were driving in the car she told me, ‘I’ve found this wonderful thing.’ ‘What is it?’ I said. ‘Depends. I have one on right now, and I’m peeing.’ I said, ‘That’s just great.’ She said, ‘I have another one in my purse. Why don’t you pull over and put one on so you can drive and pee?’ ”
After bringing down the house with that story, Gray concluded her talk on a serious note: “Steve Jobs once said that we were all put here to make a dent in the universe. So I say to all of you: Look inside. What kind of a dent in the universe would you like to make? Whether it’s volunteering … or contributing … or giving love to someone in need.”