It was one of the first signs of a change in protocol for fundraising activities. When Retina Foundation of the Southwest held its Visionary Luncheon at the Omni Dallas Hotel on Wednesday, March 4, there was a table at each of the entrances inside the Dallas Ballroom. On the table was a jumbo size pump container of hand sanitizer. Not everyone took advantage of the offer, but it was obvious that many had already heeded the warning of the COVID-19 virus impacting North Texas.
For this reason, the crowd of 600 including Terry Flowers, John Scovell, David Miller, Honorary Co-Chairs Nancy and Herbert Hunt Family including sisters Libby Allred and Barbara Hunt Crow and Visionary Awardees Helen K. And Robert G. McGraw, Amy McEvoy and Therese Rourk were assembled with no need for social distancing or masking up.
The luncheon crowd was made up of an equal number of men and women. Perhaps it was due to the fact that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was the headliner. As he walked into the ballroom, he looked like one of the hometowners. No surprise. He was indeed born in Dallas.
He paused to chat with Bobby Lyle and accommodated requests by guests for selfies, as well as one with Shelly Slater who would be interviewing him onstage.
At 11:30 the program began with Foundation CEO Karl Csaky welcoming the group, Luncheon Co-Chairs Nancy and Steve Rogers thanking the Hunt family and other sponsors for their support and videos recognizing the McGraws and interviewing Herbert Hunt. It was during Herbert’s video that he pointed out that his family had suffered from eye diseases. He is unable to see his 28 grandchildren and hoped that all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren don’t suffer from the disease.
Following the video, Foundation Development managers Amy Lobner and Vanessa Peterson reported that the Foundation had already received more than $600K thanks to the luncheon.
They were followed by Molecular Ophthalmology Lab Senior Research Associate Dr. Tim Catchpole, who explained how the Foundation was working with stem cells in regard to improving macular degeneration. It presently involves an injection into the eyeball. They’re goal is to develop a less painful way of applying the drug.
Just three minutes later, Vision and Neurodevelopment Laboratory Director Krista Kelly discussed her work with babies with anopia — poor vision in one eye. She is collaborating with 18 pediatric ophthalmologists
To keep things moving right along, no sooner was lunch served than Drew and Shelly took their places on stage. Some of highlights from their conversation included:
- Sharing the credit — In achieving the all-time passing record last year, Drew realized, “It’s all about getting together to achieve the goal, not who gets the credit.” For instance, he thought of all the receivers who had caught the ball. Then he realized it also took the other players, coaches, staff and his surgeon to help him accomplish that record. He wrote letters to each of them to recognize their being part of the record.
- His children — His five-year old daughter Rylen Brees is “wild. She is the instigator… She does ballet and gymnastics. She could be a cage fighter.” His oldest son has an ear for music. His middle son is highly competitive. His youngest son is the “intellectual… highly intelligent.”
- His wife Brittany Brees — Brittany was driving their kids to school one day and middle son Bowen Brees reported that oldest son Baylen Brees was signing autographs at school the other day. Britt stopped the car and said, “You’re not famous until you make this world a better place.”
- 4 F’s — His priorities are faith, family, football and philanthropy.
- The Bible — He reads it first thing in the morning to “give him strength and peace.”
- The Brees Dream Foundation — Following the death of Brittany’s aunt from brain cancer, they started working on the creation of the foundation on their honeymoon in Bora Bora.
- Football ‘n’ America — Drew created a co-ed flag football program for children in grades K-10. One team is located in Prestonwood. The purpose was to “provide a safe, positive, competitive and family-friendly environment to learn the game the right way and have fun doing it.”
- Girls vs. Boys — “I enjoy coaching girls in flag football much better than boys. First of all, they’re better athletes than boys.”
- Tackle football for kids — Not until sixth grade at the earliest. “There are so many skills that can be learned before that. The more sports kids play the better.”
- Heroes of the past — Joe Montana was his god. He was really a baseball player. Ted Williams was his #1.
- Mentors — Doug Flutie, Mark Brunell and Nolan Ryan
- Retirement — “I’ve started thinking about it over the past few years. You’re got to find the way to navigate it.” Three-quarters of his life has been involved in football.
- Boston Children’s Hospital — The next day Drew was going to Boston to have his head shaved to support Boston Children’s Hospital.