It’s not every day that the fundraising chair is caught off guard at her own event. But that’s what appeared to have happened for Visionary Luncheon Chair Libby Hunt Allred at the event benefiting the Retina Foundation at the Anatole on Tuesday, May 24.
There was no hint what lay ahead during the VIP reception in the Plum Blossom Room that was filled to capacity with Retina Foundation Chief Medical Officer Karl Csaky, Pamela Graham, Di Johnston, Ann and Bob Dyer, Sila Grogan and Pat McDonough. While celebs du jour six-time Paralympian Brian McKeever and his brother, Olympian and Head Coach-Nordiq Canada Robin McKeever and Dallas Cowboy Super Bowl Champ Bob Lilly graciously posed for photos with guests, the room seemed like a Hunt family reunion with FC Dallas President Dan Hunt, Barbara Hunt Crow, Lyda Hill and, of course, Libby and her husband Al Allred. Also in the crowd were members of the another philanthropic family who were the honorary co-chairs — matriarch Margot Perot and daughter Nancy Perot.
Needless to say, the items creating head turns were Lyda Hill’s personalized face mask and Brian’s Paralympic gold medal.
Inside the grand ballroom that had been underwritten and coordinated by Libby’s sister Barbara, there were Tiffany Divis, Beth Thoele, Kristi Francis, Bobby Lyle, Gina Miller, Holly and Phil Huffines, Patrick Esquerre, Katherine and Eric Reeves and still more Hunts (Libby’s folks Nancy and Herbert Hunt, Libby Hunt, Wilson Hunt, Kristy and Patrick Sands and Retina Foundation’s Young Visionaries Chair Lauren Sands), with good reason. In addition to Libby’s chairing the event, there was the fact that both Herbert and his sister, the late Caroline Rose Hunt, had lost their eyesight due to macular degeneration, which compromised their ability to live normal lives. As Libby explained, not only could her father no longer drive a car, he was unable to see his children and grandchildren and other family members.
But the loss of eyesight due to disease was far from limited to the senior citizen age group. That fact was made clear when Brian and Robin described their journey in the world of competitive sports with limited vision. Despite his amazing skills on the slopes, Brian had inherited his father’s Stargardt disease (a macular degeneration or loss of central vision – fine detail and color). At the age of 19, his diagnosis was confirmed. Still thanks to Robin’s serving a a sighted guide, the brothers teamed up, resulting in Brian’s ten medals altogether across three Winter Games. Over the years Brian has taken home a total of 20 medals, including 16 golds, making him Canada’s most decorated winter Paralympian.
In addition to guiding his brother to success, Robin, who competed in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, has been named the head coach of Nordiq Canada, where he will prepare the team for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
In addressing the audience about their childhood, Robin, who is six years older than Brian, admitted that he treated his “little brother like dirt” as youngsters and is now riding on his coattails. They pointed out that after Toyota ran a commercial during the Super Bowl about their story, people started reaching out, saying they were so glad to not feel like they were the only ones with similar disorders.
Once the program officially got underway, there were a couple of “oops” moments. The first took place when Foundation Board Chair Louis J. Grabowsky recognized Lyda Hill and renamed her “Lydia Hill.”
The other was an announcement that the Visionary Award presented by Toyota was being renamed the Hunt Family Visionary Award, and had been re-imagined through the work of Brad Oldham Sculptures. Previously presented to ORIX Foundation (2018), Thompson and Knight Foundation (2019), Helen K. and Robert G. McGraw (2020) and Dr. Anthony Fauci (2021), this year’s award was being presented to the multiple generations of the Hunt family. Patrick took his place at the podium and said that, in appreciation of her keeping an eye on the future, Libby would receive this first edition of the award. “We agree that Libby is one-of-a-kind and [should] receive this beautiful award created by Brad Oldham.” Looking a little startled at the announcement, Libby joined Patrick on stage.
During the “working lunch,” guests learned about success stories and future plans for the Foundation. Libby reported that thanks to the Foundation’s Dr. (Eileen) Birch, it had been discovered that the omega three fatty acid BHA in mothers’ milk is necessary for infant eye and brain development. As a result, enhanced baby formula is sold worldwide.
Another discovery made by Dr. Birch was a “more effective way to detect and treat lazy eye — amblyopia — in pre-school students. Lazy eye is the most common cause of vision loss in children. Up to three out of every 100 children have it. The good news is that early treatment can usually prevent long-term vision problems.”
Foundation Chief Medical Officer Karl Csaky told the guests, “We’re doing cutting-edge research because of institutional structure and community support.” Because of these elements, they have been able to have Krista Kelley head up the newly created Vision and Neurodevelopment Laboratory and bring on board stem cell expert Srinivasa R. Sripathi from John Hopkins.
One of the day’s highlights was emcee Scott Murray‘s moderating a conversation about their journeys in sports and life featuring Dan, Brian and Bob Lilly that included:
- Dan had to correct Scott that he wasn’t around when the Super Bowl got its name, since he was born in 1976. (The Super Bowl got its name in 1970 thanks to Dan’s father, the late Lamar Hunt.) “The one thing I’m really mad about is that my dad didn’t trademark the words ‘Super Bowl’ because I would be retired now.”
- “In 1972 when my father was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he accepted the award on behalf of the football fans of America. He understood that it was the fans that made the game.”
- “Bob, I’m not sure if you know this, but I have a football card collection and have the highest rated rookie card. I’m fan geeking up here with Bob Lilly, even though you were a Cowboy.”
- “He (Lamar) created his own football league (American Football League) when he was just 26. I was trying to pay my bar tab at that age.”
- He realized that his dad was a “really big deal” when in “the early 2000s, we were in Washington, D.C., at a deal for U.S. soccer. Pelé was being honored there and my dad was receiving the national medal for U.S. soccer. He said ‘Hi’ to Pele during his speech. When it was over and I was standing there, I looked up and saw Pele running across the room and yelling my father’s name and giving him the biggest hug.”
- His mother Norma Hunt is now struggling with macular degeneration.
- He was the #1 draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys. But there was a back story. He was invited to a Hunt family party. “I didn’t really know what to think because I came from Throckmorton, and we had a home that would fit in one room (of the Hunts’ home) and I’m looking around at all the crystal and the chandeliers,” Bob recalled. “I’m very shy in the first place, so I was trying to stay out of everybody’s way. But the family was very nice, extremely nice. A lot of my friends in the Southwest Conference were drafted by the Dallas Texans. I was actually planning to do that myself. But I talked with my TCU Coach Abe Martin,” who suggested he consider the Dallas Cowboys. So he joined the Cowboys, but “started hanging out with all the Texans. I had more friends that played with the Texans than I had with the Cowboys. I started wondering if I had made the right choice. But by my third year they (the Texans) did move to Kansas City. Ironically, we played Green Bay in 1966 in Dallas in the Cotton Bowl and we lost the game in the last 30 seconds. We were on the one-yard line and (Don) Meredith was going to throw and he got hit in the shoulder and the ball was fumbled and we lost the game. Ironically, the Texans (now called the Chiefs) were in the Super Bowl that year. And I’m thinking I might seriously have made a mistake. Eventually the next year we played in the Ice Bowl and we lost again in the last 30 seconds. Finally we worked our way up to play Baltimore.
- The rest is history with his powerhousing the Cowboys’ “Doomsday Defense.”
- He was part of the team that played in the legendary Ice Bowl in 1967.
- Unlike other NFL Hall of Famers wearing yellow jackets, Bob’s maroon jacket with 100 on it was presented in 2020 to the 100 Top NFL players of the century.
- It was at that NFL occasion in 2020 that he was talking with Roger Staubach, Petyon Manning, John Elway, Tom Brady and Jimmy Johnson, and the subject of vision came up. He overheard the quarterbacks talking about how they saw everything down field. “They could see what this guy was doing there and this guy was doing over there and what the intended receiver was doing,” Bob said. “It reminded me of my position as a defensive lineman. My vision was so good that I could see the whiskers on the guard’s face and I could see if their fingernails were red. That means they were going to kill me. I also had a vision of seeing where people were and if I could jump over them rather than getting cut and blocked and get hurt. My dad and mom always made me eat raw carrots when I was little, so I was on the cutting edge in the early time of my life of taking care of my eyes.”
- He admired his father who was blind, grew up on the prairie and went to a one-room school. Still he put himself through university and became a school teacher. “He was a handyman who built our cabin in British Columbia and did the plumbing, wiring and all that. One day he came to me when I was 12 years old and told me to grab my bike because we were going to the hardware store.” They bought two sheets of drywall. Brian admitted he was confused. His dad explained, “We going to put the bikes in a line and the pedals down on one side, put the drywalls on the pedals and push it home. It sounded like a good plan only Calgary is very windy. We had a sail. We really should have waited for mom with the car. We dropped it so many times and put holes in it. Because of that I learned how to patch drywall.”
What would you tell your children are the most important things to move forward?
- Dan — He quoted former National Soccer Hall of Famer Linda Hamilton, who said, “It takes a a lot of effort for great things to happen.” When asked what had been her hope, she said, “I want to leave the game better than I found it.”
- Brian — “It’s all about teamwork.” As an example, he recalled in 2018 how two female ski-team members were on their final lap with one of them being very close to winning a bronze medal. Her teammate, who was just seconds behind her, started trying to encourage her and tried to ski in front of her to create a draft helping her to win the bronze by four seconds. “She wouldn’t have had that if it hadn’t been for that support. They taught us the lesson on how good teams can be.”
- Bob — From the age of 2, his parents and grandparents “taught me to do the job right and they taught me about discipline. It wasn’t like they beat me up or anything. They would use the flyswatter sometimes and point me in the right direction. Anyway, I learned to gather eggs without breaking them, learned to feed the chickens, plant the seeds for the garden and I learned how to drive a tractor and mow the hay right. First time my dad put me out in a field of hay, it was 60 acres and I thought ‘this little thing is only six-foot long… I said I’ll never get done.’ So I started it in little pieces. I was running over good hay. My dad came out and he set me straight. He said, ‘You go around and around and around and if it takes until dark it takes til dark.’ I learned things the hard way, but I learned them. And when I played football, I had coaches that were the same way. They trained you. All these things play a big part in your life and in your future life because you’re eventually going to grow up and have a family and you have to train your kids. I don’t think I do as good a job training my kids as my parents did because I think being in a city is a little bit hard. It’s a job. It’s a job that needs to be done well. I went through my entire career of 23 years of football without missing one game.”
As a result of the event’s most successful fundraising in its history, the Foundation will be able to grow its “innovative research and treatment in its three main areas of pediatric eye conditions, inherited eye diseases and age-related macular degeneration.”