Guests at the 36th annual St. Valentine’s Day Fashion Show and Luncheon were dressed to the nines on Wednesday, February 5, to check out the NorthPark fashions on the runway at the Meyerson. But some had bigger reasons to attend the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of North Texas fundraiser despite the wet, cold weather in North Texas that morning. It was because of scars.
In the crowd were personal stories about how the blood disorder had left painful scars in the lives of families. Honorary Co-Chair Peggy Sewell recalled that when she was 23, her mother Jackie Higgins died of leukemia at the age of 42. While Peggy was indeed to have healthy children and grandchildren, she was there to support the cause with her presence. Melissa Sherrill told her twins daughters, Harker Martin and Lily Martin, that they were to be on the runway as a show of support for her aunt, who had died at the age of eight of leukemia. Megan Conlon was just 13 when mother Linda Somerville died in 1999 from Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. It was Linda’s death from the disease that spurred her best friend Robyn Conlon to create the Memorial Hero Award in 2015.
Even though these losses were years ago, they still resonated and inspired their loved ones to raise awareness and funds to battle blood cancer. On the other hand, there was another group that was just trying to adjust to the cruelty of the disease. But more about that later.
As the Hall was being prepared for the show, guests were cooling their stiletto heels checking in. In addition to a slo-mo check-in, the outdoor temperatures blew in with every new arrival. Ah, but it was worth the wait. They were rewarded with a flute of champagne. Louise Griffeth, who won a trip for two to the Carolina Herrera show at New York’s Fashion Week last year, was taking her daughter-in-law Annie Griffeth along in the days ahead… Tim Moore was already settling into his new role at Children’s Medical Center Foundation wearing a red balloon on his lapel with associate Grace Thomas… Another one changing offices was former American Heart Association – Dallas Executive Director Melissa Cameron, who was now part of Crayton Webb’s Sunwest team.
At 10:45 a.m., the chimes sounded inviting the guests like Lindsay Ballotta, Tiffany Divis, Kristi Bare, Josie Sewell, Rainey Fogiel with daughter Natalie Moon, Rachel Trowbridge, Kristen Gibbins, Kim Hext and Heather Randall to the hall for the program that began at 11:15 a.m. Event Chair Nikki Webb welcomed the group and emcee Clarice Tinsley presented the Icon Award to Event Producer Jan Strimple, the Lynda Adleta Heart of Gold Award to the St. Valentine’s Fashion Show and Luncheon Co-Founder Rusty Duvall and her husband Bill Duvall and the Spirit of Tom Landry Award to Luke Allred.
Accepting the Memorial Hero Award for the late Zach Guillot was “his best friend and soulmate” Julia Franco, who had helped him weather the ordeal until the end. She recalled how Zach would give her Valentine necklaces and had talked about one day getting married. She would later tell Jan Strimple “how much the power of the entire day moved her.” She went on to say how the event had “helped her realize how powerful her voice will be to motivate others in funding LLS’s Children’s Initiative.”
Following the award presentations, Clarice introduce five young people (Zach Rigby, Jude Kobler, Bennett Williams, Kaitlin Johnson and Luke Allred) who had battled the disease and won. Each of the youngsters took their places on the stage holding individual cards that together read, “Love Can Find A Cure.”
It was then that the stories of recent losses to leukemia and lymphoma took center stage, starting with videos on four young people — Zach Guillot, Isaac Shin, Jack Duffy and Luke Laufenberg — who had lost their battles. Following the video, the parents of the children (Babe Laufenberg, Julie Guillot, Sarah Shin and Deborah Duffy) arrived on stage, each holding a photo of their child. As Luke’s father, Babe Laufenberg, addressed the crowd, it was obvious from his voice, his words and his face that pain and grief were still taking its toll. It had been just a year ago when Babe accepted the Tom Landry Award for Luke, who was playing football at the University of Texas at El Paso. Babe recalled how Luke had skyped in to the delight of the crowd. Then, just two months later, the Laufenbergs’ happiness was dashed when the disease came back with a vengeance, ending Luke’s life this past August.
On the other hand, Zach’s mother Julie was like a fierce mother bear. Since Zach’s death from complications of treatments for acute myeloid leukemia on February 7, 2014, she had turned her grief into a force to behold. She was leading the charge for the LLS Children’s Initiative, “a $100 million multi-year effort to take on children’s cancer through every facet of our mission: Research, Patient Education and Support and Policy and Advocacy.”
Using one of Zach’s favorite “weapons,” she rallied the audience with a light saber to achieve greater research and treatments for pediatric cancers.
To raise the funds for such efforts, Julie handed over the saber to auctioneer Louis Murad, who announced that the day’s efforts had been kicked off by a $50,000 gift. He then made a call-for-cash.
At 12:06 p.m. it was time for the fashions from NorthPark’s Fabiana Filippi, Canali, Kate Spade, Janie and Jack, Ted Baker and Neiman Marcus. The two scene stealers were the child-models in Janie and Jack and a fellow in gold glittery pants from NM.
At 12:30 p.m., while nannies and mommies scurried to cars to take their young models to school, other guests adjourned to the lobby for lunch with charming gentlemen offering to sell raffle tickets.