The Crowd: British tycoon of Virgin Group visits Orange County

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of companies and one of the world's most influential business leaders, appeared Jan. 25 at UC Irvine as part of the "Living Peace" series of talks co-hosted by UCI and a local nonprofit, the Center for Living Peace.

Branson has also founded Virgin Unite, a nonprofit adjunct to his corporate empire.

Its goal is to "to revolutionize the way businesses, governments and the social sector work together — driving business as a force for good," said Nancy Christiano, with the Center For Living Peace, in welcoming the British tycoon to Orange County.

She added: "Richard Branson's presence here seeks to create important dialogue about how people can generate a more peaceful, just and sustainable world inspiring all to take action."

Branson's appearance was the second talk in the three-part Living Peace series, which opened late last year with a talk by actress Charlize Theron, who spoke about her charity work in helping impoverished children in her native Africa. The series will conclude with an appearance at UCI by the Dalai Lama on May 4.

The Branson event began with an early-evening address followed by a casual dinner attended by donors and sponsors. Some 200 guests and an army of paparazzi were on hand to greet Branson, who came dressed in what some labeled as "pirate attire" but more appropriately would be described as 18th-century English period dress.

UCI Chancellor Michael Drake, who, in stark contrast to Branson, wore a business suit and tie, and Drake's wife Brenda greeted local activists Ralph and Sue Stern of Newport Beach, Barbara and Greg MacGillivray, Tim and Pamela Kashani, Bruce and Karen Cahill, and Yael and Eyal Aranaff. Also supporting the event were fish taco king Wing Lam and Kelly Paul, author Mark Victor Hansen, insurance exec Bob Waltos, commercial realtor Phil Cohen, philanthropist Twyla Martin, and Coast magazine publisher Justine Amodeo. By the end of the evening $250,000 was raised for Virgin Unite.

Kelly Smith, a Newport Beach resident and founder of the Center For Living Peace, gathered community leaders from Wells Fargo, Quest Software, the Green Foundation, as well as educators and students, to participate in dialogues and classes sponsored by the center enabling local citizens to realize the possibility of making a difference, changing the world one person, one day, one action at a time. For more information about the Center For Living Peace, go to

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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