WARNING: Be prepared. This one is a very long one, but you’ll want to “monkey” around with it just for fun.
Pity the poor first-timers at the 2014 Robert S. Folsom Leadership Award dinner on Wednesday, November 19. Yes, they knew they were honoring Dr. Bobby B. Lyle. And, yes, they knew it would benefit the Methodist Health System Foundation. But such pillars of Dallas society as Ruth Altshuler and Nancy Dedman soon learned they would be laughing so hard that they would almost be in tears. And Bobby was one of them laughing the hardest.
More about the source of the laughter later.
The dinner has the reputation of surprise like none other. During the past nine years such notables as Nancy Ann Hunt, Troy Aikman, Laura Bush, Norman Brinker, Pat and Emmitt Smith, Trevor Rees-Jones, Mike Boone and Mark Craig have been delightfully “honored” with surprise VIP speakers. For instance, when Mark was the 2013 honoree, former President George W. Bush appeared at the podium unannounced. When Pat and Emmitt were the honorees, a fellow from the back of the room in baseball cap, sunglasses and baseball jacket took to the podium. It was Mark Cuban.
All this chicanery is the result of the Methodist Health System Foundation’s mischievous team led by April Box Chamberlain and her sidekick Joy Duncan. For months leading up to the event, they sleuth around finding insider tidbits on the honoree.
This year Bobby was their target. He admitted that he was a little concerned about what was going to happen. He wasn’t the only one. There were some backstagers who were wondering if one of the guests of honor would truly make a monkey of all of ‘em.
But before all the shenanigans took place, last minute preparations were underway. No one seemed to notice a couple who strolled hand-in-hand through the dimly lit lobby of the Anatole to the Counter Offer. It was Bobby with Lottye Brodsky in a bright red suit. At the opposite end of the lobby, a jamboree of Boy Scouts seemed to be forming. Just before 6:30, the scouts moved upstairs. Part of their assignment was to line the hallway leading to the Imperial Ballroom and greet guests.
The reception for 800 was underway in the lobby outside the Carpenter and Stemmons ballrooms. It seemed like everyone lay claim to being an “old friend” of Bobby’s. It was interesting to see various people of the Bobby Lyle universes — college, business, philanthropy — interacting. No knuckle bumping with this group. It was either firm handshakes or big hugs, but always big smiles. In the crowd were Nancy Ann Hunt, Ashlee Kleinert and Ros Dawson, who had been at the hotel earlier in the day for the Women of Distinction Luncheon. Despite being the luncheon’s honoree, Nancy Ann was telling one and all about Alison Levine’s talk.
At 7:15 the dinner chimes could hardly be heard over the noise, but people figured out it was time to move upstairs to the Imperial Ballroom and what awaited them.
It took a bit of doing, but finally the guests took their places and settled down like ever so proper types. Bless the first-timers’ hearts. They just thought they knew the drill — the predictable video, a meal and a bunch of hifalutin speeches by local pals praising Bobby to the hilt.
Well, they were sorta right. But the Methodist team likes to put a spin on the usual dinner salutes and they did just that starting off with Salvation Army’s Lt. Col. William “Bill” Mockabee, who had worked with Bobby when Bill was the area commander for the Dallas/Fort Worth Salvation Army. He was a charming emcee. Bill said how he was supposed to be speaking at an international symposium in the Netherlands and had even told Bobby that the week before. Instead his wife Deborah was presenting for him there. He then turned the focus on the gathering for Bobby. It was to celebrate “his favorite food, his favorite people…all of us are his favorite people. I’m sure that’s true… his favorite work, his favorite business ventures…his favorite work, his favorite business ventures.”
Bill recalled how “Bobby used to drive me nuts. He’s the only person that I know that before he would offer criticism of me, he would couch it with, ‘Bill, would you allow me to make an observation?’ And, without thinking, I would say, ‘Yes.’ And what I had just done, I had given him permission to give absolutely all of his criticism of me to help me learn.”
And then Bill brought up the infamous Bobby Lyle red pen — “If you’ve never been mentored by Bobby Lyle, you won’t know what that means.” A rumble of laughter went through the audience proving that the room was filled with mentored ones.
Looking at Bobby, Bill summed it up saying, “Bobby, this could be a very long night for you.”
Following the invocation by the Perkins School of Theology Dean Dr. William Lawrence, Event Co-Chair David Miller welcomed the guests in proper fashion, recognizing his wife/Co-Chair Carolyn Miller, Co-Chairs Linda and Mitch Hart and Honorary Co-Chairs Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt and Renda and Rex Tillerson. He was lulling the group into a place of typical tribute dinner fare. He recalled being a graduate student 40 years ago, when Bobby was head of the SMU business school. David talked about the many organizations (SMU, the Boy Scouts, the Salvation Army, etc.) that had benefited from Bobby’s involvement. The clatter of silverware proved that folks were downing their dinner. That sound would soon be replaced with laughter, as guests discovered this wasn’t the same old, same old award dinner.
Then David subtly shifted direction. Not hugely, but it was the beginning of what was to come. He said that there was one aspect of “Bobby’s life that might surprise you.” Seated at the front row center table, Bobby with Lottye at his side knew something was up.
David continued, “In fact it surprised me when the co-chairs (Linda and Mitch) told me about it. There is a little Bobby.”
Eyebrows were raised. After all, Bobby’s two kids Sharon Lyle and Christopher Lyle were in the audience and, yes, Sharon was expecting “Bubba” in April, but there was no little Bobby among the group… or was there?
David then introduced Linda and Mitch to explain about “little Bobby”. The appropriate applause was quickly followed by laughter and eyes popping open. On to the stage walked the Harts. Whoa! The distinguished, silver-haired Mitch, who was an Annapolis graduate, an EDS founder and on the board of numerous impressive boards, had a capuchin monkey on his shoulder. The Harts then proved to be one of the great comedy teams of Dallas. As Linda valiantly read a speech about how little Bobby came into the Lyle legends, Mitch bravely suffered the agonies of a monkey-escort duties.
To say little Bobby was not a happy camper was to put it mildly. Nobody was going to make a “monkey” out of him. As the laughter rose throughout the room, with even Anatole staffers amazed at the situation, little Bobby appeared to want to renegotiate his contract. After all, he was upstaging everything and everybody.
The stately Mitch with unflinching smile tried to appease the unhappy little Bobby. Never looking aside at what her husband was doing, Linda performed her role as if she was delivering a state-of-the-union address. She told how 20 years ago, the Harts and Bobby were in the West Indies playing golf. “Bobby was regaling us with tales of monkeys on the island. Now, Mitch was very skeptical —‘I’ve been a bunch of times and never seen any monkeys on the island.’ Bobby was not deterred at all. Determined to prove that he was right and that Mitch was wrong, on the second hole, Bobby hit an amazing screamer of a fade into the woods. With accuracy that would have stunned Tiger Woods he had his eye on a monkey in a tree, which he managed to hit squarely on the head. The monkey jumped from the tree, ran across the fairway, rubbing his head and shooting dirty looks at Bobby all the way. Some people on the golf course get birdies; Bobby gets monkeys.
“Many years later, to celebrate Bobby’s 70th birthday, we presented him with a monkey. It was worth it just to watch Bobby’s sheer look of panic during dinner wondering ‘What in the devil am I going to do with this monkey?’ We finally told him that what his gift was was a donation we had made to the Dallas Zoo to name the next male monkey Bobby B, which they did. Being the animal lover that he is, Bobby has visited his monkey namesake at the Dallas Zoo. So, now SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering is not the only institution to boast Bobby Lyle’s name.”
The very proper philanthropists and CEO’s in the audience, like Ruth Altshuler, Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones, Marla and Mike Boone, Sara and David Martineau, Allie Beth and Pierce Allman, Cindy Brinker, Mary McDermott Cook, Dan Patterson, Barbara and Ralph Babb, Ellen and John McStay and Folsom daughters Debbie Jarma and Diane Frank, were almost in tears, they were laughing so hard. It only got worse when little Bobby decided to rearrange Mitch’s silver locks. Still Mitch smiled on and gently held the monkey’s leash as if he was being watched by PETA.
It was at this point, when Linda listed all the animals that Bobby had on his ranch, that little Bobby finally stole the show. Having had enough of Mitch’s shoulder, the West Indies monkey tale and the waves of laughter coming from the audience, little Bobby decided to head for the floor, lie on his back and screech at the dignified Mitch to let him know who was the boss.
The laughter became so great that Linda briefly stopped and sneaked a peak at what was going on. Stifling a chuckle, she continued with her part of the program only imagining what her husband was having to do.
It was then revealed that the monkey on stage was actually named “Mikey, the great-great-grandson of the monkey you hit.”
As things were literally getting out of hand, Mikey’s “agent” (aka handler) joined the Harts and little Bobby on stage. As she took charge of the monkey, the little guy made one last face of displeasure at Mitch, who simply smiled back.
Lt. Col. Bill returned to the podium saying, “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything! I would have come without an invitation to see that. Bobby, that monkey’s ticked off. He hasn’t forgotten. I come to Dallas to see Bobby Lyle at the Anatole and I’m in the green room with a monkey. I’m convinced that monkey looked at me back there and he said, ‘You and your buddies.’ Wait til you meet his brother — Bubba B. He’s not happy about it either.”
Bill introduced Methodist Health System Foundation President/CEO April Box Chamberlain, who arrived on stage carrying a stuffed animal monkey and told Bobby Lyle that he could take this one home and he was “real low maintenance.”
She then thanked the Lupe Murchison Foundation and Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt for being the first presenting sponsors of the dinner. It was then announced that the more than $1.5M raised from the dinner would benefit medical education per Bobby’s request.
April then thanked and introduced Joy, who asked April, “How do you top that (the Folsom dinner)?” April answered with, “It’s no big deal” with a video recalling the past 10 years of dinners.
Following dinner, SMU Chairman of the Voice department Clif Forbis sang a rendition of “Let it Be”. Only the words were “Bobby B” and guests waved little flashlights in the ballroom.
Then Methodist Health System President/CEO Steve Mansfield told of the new partnership with Mayo Clinic Care Network and the system’s growth including the Sammons Trauma and Critical Care Tower.
Thanks then went to video Ken “One Minute Manager” Blanchard, who introduced a video about Bobby Lyle a la “the most interesting man in the world” — his smartphone has developed an inferiority complex; if he were to pat you on the back, you would add it to your resume; etc. The video was a perfect blending of giggles and gratitude by friends and family.
Then the Circle Ten Boy Scout Silver Eagle Band marched in playing the SMU fight song and Bobby was presented on stage to an extensive standing ovation.
Obviously surprised, Bobby started off saying, “Mike Boone told me this would be an out-of-body experience.” He lovingly referred to the friends and family involved in the antics as “conspirators.” Despite April’s and Joy’s telling him not to worry about the night, “I worried about it.”
He admitted that not only was Linda’s and Mitch’s story about hitting the monkey out of the tree true, but it was also “the most perfect slice you’ve ever seen.”
Then he asked the audience, “Didn’t you think Mitch looked a lot like Johnny Carson, when Carson was trying to keep a monkey out of his hair? I’ve got it at home on tape….Linda and Mitch, thank you for milking that monkey story after all those years.”
He then spent the rest of his acceptance speech thanking those in the room and in his life. In typical Bobby B fashion, he graciously said, “Although I truly think that there are many, many others who are more deserving of this than I, there will never ever be anybody who appreciates it more than I do.”
Bobby proceeded to praise former Mayor Bob Folsom, with whom he worked and was a friend. Directing his comments to the Folsom daughters, he asked them to convey to their father the importance of his leadership for all of Dallas and his friendship over the years.
He then directed his aim of praise to education, the Dallas health care community, Methodist Health System and appreciation for friends and family individually.
It was almost as if he had literally turned the tables on the evening of his being honored. But then what would else would you expect from the man whose presence has been an ongoing present for Dallas. Thanks to little Bobby and big Bobby, the evening was indeed “the most perfect slice you’ve ever seen.”