The heavy rain started just as the salad plates were taken away ("How appropriate," I thought - given the name of the event I was attending), but few people inside the Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club in Palo Alto were paying attention to what was happening outside. Most eyes, including those of Stanford President John Hennessy, PhD, and Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, were instead directed to a small stage at the front of the room holding a sleek black piano, several brass-holding men clad in suits, and Harry Connick Jr.
The acclaimed vocalist/pianist was in Palo Alto for Under One Umbrella, an annual event benefiting the Stanford Women's Cancer Center, and he wowed the crowd with his commanding voice, big smile, and charming personality.
"I wrote this song for my wife, but there are so many attractive people here that you should consider it yours," he told the largely female audience with a grin before launching into his 2013 song "One Fine Thing." And later, he jokingly scolded the appreciative crowd when they gave him an enthusiastic standing ovation: "You're not supposed to act like that at a damn luncheon."
Moments earlier, Connick had been introduced with great fanfare by Jonathan Berek, MD, director of the center, who called the crooner not only an "internationally celebrated" entertainer but an "active philanthropist" and a "special guy." ("I've never received so many compliments in my life," Connick later laughed. "I'm going to make him my ringtone.") And Connick also has a personal connection to what brought the roughly 300 people together on that rainy afternoon: As he shared during a serious moment between songs, his mother died of ovarian cancer when he was 13.
"Man, do we get it," he said of those who have been affected by cancer. "It's so nice to be among people who know what it's all about."
Connick took a few moments on the stage to call out Berek on his accomplishments - "It's not often that you're humbled sitting next to someone," he said of the pre-performance time they spent together - and the work of others here, which was nicely highlighted in a 8-minute, Berek-produced film shown at the event.
During the piece, Beverly Mitchell, MD, director of the Stanford Cancer Institute, called the women's cancer center "one of the jewels in our crown." And Berek, before introducing Connick, noted the "tremendous expansion" of the "innovative and extensive" research programs that has occurred since the first Under One Umbrella event in 2008. (Much of this is, of course, thanks to Under One Umbrella, which has raised more than $26 million over seven years for the center.)
Berek also reminded attendees of the importance of patients - "They are both our benefactors and our inspiration" - but it was evident that most in the room also took inspiration from our researchers and clinicians. "I'm glad I can be a small part of this, but know how honored I am to be among the people who will eradicate" these diseases, Connick told the crowd.
Previously: Country music stars thank Under One Umbrella for supporting Stanford Women's Cancer Center, Stanford Women's Cancer Center: Peace of mind and advanced care under one umbrella and Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood help fundraising effort for Women's Cancer Center at Stanford
Photo by Drew Altizer