"Where is it?" Pilar Wayne wanted to know.
Where was the new, colorized version of the John Wayne statue? "I thought it was going to be right in the middle of the terminal," John Wayne's widow said Friday night at the gala christening of the new Thomas F. Riley Terminal.
"Help! We're lost." The exotic-looking Wayne, her daughter Aissa in tow, had popped into the black-tie party to get a look at the refurbished statue of the man she calls "the Duke."
"Of course I've seen the statue of the Duke before--when it was outside," she reminded, looking elegantly out of place as she swept by a baggage claim area, wearing emeralds and black chiffon with coq feathers. "I come here often to fly to Denver to see our daughter Marisa."
The former actress held her head high as her dark brown eyes scanned the buff-toned terminal. Onward she and Aissa trekked, past ticket counters, past rent-a-car booths, past more baggage-claim areas.
"Oh, look!" she said, nudging Aissa. "There he is! A beautiful setting."
And then the beautiful brown eyes glazed over. Suddenly, she was in another place, another time. She was choked up. "This is emotional," said Pilar, her right hand sparkling with the postage-stamp size emerald the Duke gave her on their 10th wedding anniversary.
"It feels like he's right here with us," Aissa said, gazing up at the bigger-than-life likeness of her dad.
With a little coaxing, the two women ascended the tiny staircase that helps visitors to John Wayne Airport reach out and touch the movie hero.
"We've got to come back soon and spend more time," Pilar said.
And then they were off, into the night. "Aissa has a tennis game tomorrow," Pilar explained.
Where? At the John Wayne Tennis Club, of course.
Up, up and away: Talk about a magic carpet ride. It was only black Astroturf, but that didn't keep guests from acting like they were soaring on Persian rugs Saturday at the gala-in-a-tent that celebrated the new, $22-million Patty and George Hoag Cancer Center in Newport Beach.
Spirits were so high for the "Arabian Nights" fantasy, in fact, that guests such as the cancer center's medical director, Dr. Robert Dillman, helped put finishing touches on the Casbah-like scene: sky-scraping palms and colorful tables topped with glitzed camel sculptures.
"Oh, I didn't do that much," said Dillman, enjoying the festivities with his wife, Jackie. "I just put some of the number cards on the tables."
But the reason Dillman wanted to help, he said, was that his wife was a member of the Sandpipers, a support group of Hoag Hospital since 1974. The Sandpipers, founded by the late Corky Elkouri, staged the $300-per-couple benefit, which netted proceeds estimated at $150,000.
The party's superstars were the beloved Patty and George Hoag, donors of $6 million to the three-story facility. "Patty and George have set the sail, the contributors have given it wind, and now, the staff will bring the vision to reality," said Sharon MacDonald, the center's administrative director.
The Hoags appeared briefly before the 700-strong crowd, who gave the popular couple a standing ovation as they approached the microphone.
"We are proud that this beautiful structure bears our name," said George Hoag, the hospital's chairman emeritus. Patty Hoag, resplendent in aquamarines and a shimmering, sea-blue gown, didn't speak. She simply smiled a heart-stopping smile.
Hoag Hospital President Michael Stephens, attending with his wife, Diane, said the new 65,000-square-foot facility will lessen stress for cancer patients seeking outpatient treatment. "The center has enabled us to take all of our cancer services and put them in a single building," he said. "A patient can see his physician on the third floor and go to other floors within the center for treatment and educational services." Plus, the center was created with a "patient-friendly environment in mind," Stephens said. "It is non-institutional. Here, patients will enjoy a soft, pleasant atmosphere. And so will their families."
After a cocktail reception, guests filed into the tent for a sit-down dinner that included delicious tabouli salad, beef and chicken filets, and white-chocolate mousse cheesecake with raspberry sauce.
"Cancer is something we live with," said Dillman, taking a breather after the first course (the tent became so warm during dinner that the gala committee thoughtfully had some of its "walls" removed). "It's not something we should hide in a dark corner. One out of three of us will get it. It's a part of life."
The good news, Dillman said, is that 65% of the people with cancer will be alive five years after the disease has been diagnosed. "Only 25% survived up to five years in 1950," he said. "The bad news is that, with the longevity we're having, and the carcinogens in the air, more people are getting cancer than ever."
Being treated at a cancer center forces people to be open about the disease. And that's good, Dillman said. "There's nothing shameful about having cancer."
Also on the scene: Walter Gerken--honorary gala chairman--with his wife, Darlene, and gala chairwoman Marilyn Reed, attending with her husband, Jay.
Serving on the gala committee were Joy Curry, Suzy Riley, Pat Warmington, Laraine Eggleston, Patti Estabrooks (Corki Elkouri's daughter, stunning in a hooded, Arabesque ensemble paired with a sapphire-and-diamond necklace), Karen Whitaker, Janet Sawyer, Carolyn Pike and Debbie Hogan. Other guests included Mary and James Roosevelt; Shirlee and Bob Guggenheim; Grant Hoag (son of the Hoags) with his daughter, Victoria; Suzanne Pierce (beautiful in a cloud of hot pink silk); Clara Jane Nixon; Tom and Marilyn Nielsen; Sandy and Richard Sewell; Alan and Nila Trider; Nora and Charles Hester; Robert and Bobbi Grant; Maria Crutcher; Roger and Candice Schnapp, and Nora Jorgensen.