Thursday was a big day for John “Mr. Downtown Dallas” Crawford. Not only was it his birthday, he was also co-chairing the Appetite for Advocacy luncheon presented by PlainsCapital. Was he schmoozing with the near 1,000 guests? No, he was standing guard at the door of the Sheraton Dallas. Was he waiting for the mayor? a tornado? Nope. He was waiting for wife Betty. Daughter/Co-chair Courtney Crawford Slater was already there, but Betty and daughter Elizabeth were in transit. Normally, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but Betty was still recovering from foot surgery. John was a little concerned that wife and daughter were late.
In the meantime, the crowd was growing with the likes of DCAC League President Mary Black, Robin Bagwell, Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones, Tanya Roberts, Pauline Medrano, Maggie Cooke, Katy Bock, Isabell Novakov with mom Lydia Novakov, and Stephen Swann and the much-beloved therapy dogs.
Upstairs keynote speakers Elizabeth Smart Gilmour and father Ed Smart were busy being interviewed by the local media about the ordeal the family experienced during Elizabeth’s nine-month kidnapping and captivity by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee. Among the 989 guests entering the ballroom to help raise $200,000, there were a number who recalled the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center growing from a three-story, 14,000-square-foot Victorian home on Swiss Avenue to the in-process-of-being-built 47,861-square-foot facility on Samuell Boulevard.
Back to John. Thanks to his cellphone, he soon learned that the girls had had a flat tire, gotten a back-up car and had Sewell take care of the flat.
Then Ed, Elizabeth and her new husband of two months, Matthew Gilmour, quietly took their places at the #1 table. When asked to pose for a photo, Elizabeth and Matthew smiled and agreed to the request but seemed a bit weary of the attention. But as soon as the cameras zoned in on them, they shook off the weariness and lit up.
After lunch, DCAC President/CEO Lynn Davis told the group that 6,000 confirmed cases of child abuse were reported in Dallas County alone last year with 2,000 being served by DCAC. In almost all those cases, it was perpetrated by someone they knew.
Then legendary retired lieutenant Bill Walsh proudly presented the Bill Walsh Award to Jamie Johnson, who insisted that the award belonged to her entire team.
Before turning the podium over to Ruth Altshuler, Lynn told the crowd that thanks to Ruth’s efforts back in 1989, 26,000 children have been helped. In typical Ruth fashion, she said that her involvement was due to “my ex-friend Caren Prothro,” which got a laugh throughout the room. And how does Ruth get people to support her efforts? “I write notes and hide under the bed.” Thanks to her note writing, she raised $300,000, half the amount needed to purchase the first property for DCAC. Then she got a call from then-Mayor Annette Strauss reporting there was a federal grant available through Community Development Block Grant program. Immediately a grant was written and it earned the $300,000 grant.
Unfortunately, the needs for DCAC’s service grew requiring even larger facilities and that’s where Ruth segued into the presentation of the Ruth Sharp Altshuler Award to Mary Blake and Chuck Meadows, who raised $11 million in two years for the new building. In accepting the award and a standing ovation, Mary attributed their success to many including the Rees-Joneses, who provided $5 million for the project. She concluded saying Dallas is an “incredibly generous town. . . It (the fundraising) was king of an experiment in terror!”
At 1:14 emcee Scott Murray introduced the Smarts with Ed leading off and focusing his attention to the people on his right, almost ignoring the rest of the room. During the nine months of Elizabeth’s ordeal and afterwards, Ed and the family learned that even after recovering the victim, it’s not easy. One example was after Elizabeth was found, it was John Walsh who told Ed that “she (14-year-old Elizabeth) didn’t have to victimized” by the system, which seemed to be holding her without parental assistance.
Before Elizabeth started her part of the program at 1:29, Scott notified the room that due to the event running late and the Smarts’ plane to another speaking engagement leaving early, Elizabeth would not be able to visit with guests.
Since her Dallas visit in August, Elizabeth has matured and seemed to be more polished. She told how after being taken, she was determined to return to her family — “I would do anything to get back to my family.”
She said that after the police discovered her and freed her from her captors, they put her in handcuffs and in the back of a police car. All the youngster could think was, “Maybe it was because I drank alcohol and was underage.”
When she was about to talk with her mother, who was still doubting that her daughter had been recovered, the battery on the cell phone went dead.
In addressing the importance of DCAC for children in the judicial system, she recalled her experience when she was brought into a room by herself to be interviewed by psychiatrists — two middle-age men. “Now bless their hearts. They were just trying to do their jobs, but I had just been with a middle-age male who I hated more than anything in this world, who had done terrible things to me. It was about the last thing I wanted to do was to go into a room with two middle-age men and be questioned about intimate, gruesome details about what happened. . . ‘Do you know what the difference between rape and molest means?'”
For some, it was painful to hear for the first time the beautiful blonde recount the crime that occurred 10 years ago. For all, it was a reminder that the DCAC is at the forefront in protecting the most vulnerable victims among us.