The Robert S. Folsom Award Dinner at the Hilton Anatole on Tuesday, September 24, was just one wave after another of OMG moments. Perhaps it was because the honoree was a man of God — retired Rev. Mark Craig, with a fan base ranging from Dallas Cowboys coaches to U.S. presidents.
With Craig having recently retired from his duties as senior minister of Highland Park United Methodist Church, it seemed like the entire congregation had shown up. Not really, but the 900 guests including Patsy Donosky, Troy Aikman, Capa Mooty, Sydney Huffines, Lee Ann White, Michael Fowler, Kate Dorff, Marla and Mike Boone, Nancy Dedman, Jan and Fred Hegi, Billy Bob Harris, Tony Goolsby, Ray Huffines, Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt, Ashlee and Chris Kleinert and Travis Box, who filled the Grand Ballroom, were the lucky ones. It seems there was a sizable waiting list for the sell-out benefit for the Methodist Health System Foundation. It’s known as the dinner with surprises, and MHSF President April Box Chamberlain and her staff maintained their perfect home-run record.
Jim Francis warned friends to expect quite an evening, but wouldn’t explain more. All he said was, “Take notes. You’re gonna enjoy the evening.” He likes to sit back and watch the expressions on people’s faces when the surprises take place.
But as soon as guests took their seats, it soon because apparent. First surprise was the evening’s emcee — Chef Dean Fearing. He told of Mark’s asking about helping with a dinner in the Craig home for Laura and former President George W. Bush and Gail and Dr. Gerald Turner. First came a great exchange between the minister and the chef (“Do I need to go to Tom Thumb and get the food?”). When the big day arrived, Dean was on hand to prepare the meal. But he discovered the table set for seven. Had Mark invited another guest? There were two Craigs, two Bushes and two Turners. Who was #7? Mark explained it was set for the chef to join in. That was important, he said, because if there was a lull in the conversation, Dean was to tell some stories.
Then Methodist Health System President Dr. Steve Mansfield (he’s finishing his seventh year in the position) and Event Co-Chair Barry Andrews spoke. Barry mentioned how Dallas Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett was in San Diego — “he’s got a big test in San Diego next Sunday at 3:30, so he’s home studying for it.” (Luckily, Jason’s blonde, beautiful wife Brill was front and center.)
Barry then addressed Mark, saying, “Mark, you’ve touched so many lives. We set a goal we thought was ambitious. Jim Francis can give ambitious goals. We’re proud and thrilled to let you know that we’ve raised $1.5M! You went for the gold, and you got it!”
A Masterpiece Theatre-version video was presented with Rev. Paul Rasmussen, Mark’s mother Louise Craig, Harlan Crow, Mark’s children, Jason Garrett, Gerald Turner and Jim Francis. From being a lover of vintage books and their bindings, to President George W. Bush’s attributing his running for president to one of Mark’s sermons, the minister was revealed with love and humor.
Guests dined on a menu of Mark’s favorite foods (roasted corn chowder with venison sausage en croute, grilled medallions of beef tenderloin topped with crispy leeks, wild mushroom sauce, cheesy potato custard, roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta bacon, mini banquette and jalapeno corn muffins and traditional banana pudding with vanilla wafers).
Promptly at 8:30 p.m., April reported to the guests that in addition to having a record crowd, they had also raised a record-breaking amount (that $1.5M) for the Charles A. Sammons Tower for Critical Care, at Mark’s request.
Then with a bigger-than-big smile, April introduced the person who was to introduce Mark. The gentleman was a member of Mark’s congregation — former President George W. Bush, who arrived at the podium to a standing O.
The former White House resident looked relaxed, healthy and sincerely happy to be part of the celebration for Mark. To emphasize Mark’s influence in his life, the former president read a selection from his “Decision Points.” Starting off, he said, “It’s actually germane for tonight; it’s not crass marketing. But if you haven’t bought the book, there’s ample inventory.” Describing the scenario mentioned earlier, W recalled how when he was governor and considering the run for president, there were moments of clarity along the way. He and Laura invited Mark to come to First United Methodist Church in downtown Austin. He told his mother [Barbara Bush] that he had been struggling with the presidential-run decision. She said to get over it. . . make up your mind and move on. Then Mark’s sermon struck. It was like “Exodus,” where God calls Moses to action. The message was profound, scholarly, candid, straightforward and very funny, W said, adding that Craig “is one of our country’s greatest preachers.”
As W and Mark exchanged places on the stage, an extra chair was brought to the head table for the former president. The minister started off, “Thank you, Mr. President. I know it’s late for you.” He then told the audience that he’d being singing the same song all day: the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” In typical Mark Craig style, he led the room full of guests in singing the song. Then he admitted, “I always thought if I could sing and if I had bouffant hair, I’d be a TV evangelist.”
Continuing in his legendary style, he confided that he had worried that he had lost his mojo for the acceptance speech. Then he realized that this was just like a sermon — all you have to do is make three points in 6 ½ minutes.
Point #1: He was truly honored to receive the award with Bob Folsom’s name on it. Point #2: He thanked Event Co-Chairs Lana and Barry Andrews and Natalie and Mike McGuire, Jim Francis, the 15 SMU trustees in attendance, Gerald Turner and Mark’s wife Sandra. Mark thanked the former president for assisting in the adoption of the Craig daughter from China, adding that her name was Ali W. Craig. Point #3: He described the importance of Methodist Hospital, “because it looks south and has never left the south. That’s where the pain and suffering are. It’s been there for 85 years.”
In closing, he revealed that “I retired because I ran out of sermons. Everyone runs out of sermons but (some) don’t know it.” Looking out on the audience, he thanked all ,saying, “The right kind of men and women (are here). . . loving, generous, sacrificial.”
With that Mark joined the head table, Dean returned to the podium, and the stage was filled to capacity with a rousing choir performance to close the evening.
With all the surprises popping up, it was no wonder that Jim Francis had a huge smile on his face.