Hey big spenders!

When the gala proceeds run in to the big millions, it's either Bush 41 or Lester Smith involved

When the gala proceeds run in to the big millions, it's either Bush 41 or Lester Smith involved

With the major windfall for Texas Children's Cancer Center on Wednesday night, those who frequent various charitable fundraising events are asking if that $9 million garnered at the Hilton Americas-Houston was a record. A good question.

It is seldom that a single-evening fundraiser surpasses more than a million or so and it is a true rarity for any gala to get within a nosebleed of $10 million. But there have been those mega nights. And those leading fundraisers have been touched by one of two powerful Houstonians — either former President George H.W. Bush or oilman/philanthropist Lester Smith.

The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has benefited enormously from the blessings of Bush and his wife, Barbara. Three events associated with the Bushes stand out with major fundraising results. In 1999, M.D. Anderson celebrated the former president's 75th birthday with a bash at Reliant Park, an evening that raised $10 million. The festivities for 3,000 began on the floor of the Astrodome and continued with a seated dinner in what was then known as the AstroArena Convention Center.

Only two years later, the Bushes served as honorary chairs of Anderson's 60th anniversary. The evening on the field at Minute Maid park also served to usher in his two-year term as head of the cancer center's prestigious Board of Visitors. The 2,000 guests that night helped raise $10.4 million.

And then the grandaddy of all Houston fundraisers came in 2004 with the 41@80 celebration marking the former president's eight decades. Some 6,000 fans gathered at Minute Maid Park for the evening that raised a whopping $55 million. That event, complete with several former heads of state from around the world, put the crowning touch on tundraising for the George Bush Forty-One Endowment campaign. Proceeds were split between M.D. Anderson (which received $26 million), the Bush Library and the Points of Light Foundation.

Enjoying a similar Midas touch, though much of the funds come from his own pockets, is Lester Smith, who splashed on the scene in 2004 when he and his wife, Sue, launched the prostate cancer awareness program Honor Thy Father and gave $7.5 million to Baylor College of Medicine's urology department. It was just the beginning of an endless stream of giving that has placed the Smiths in the elite ranks of the city's most generous. The real definition of philanthropists.

They were at the helm in 2008 at the Partnership for Baylor College of Medicine's Noche Caliente gala that raised $11.5 million net. It was the most money ever raised by a single event for the medical school. With two fab bands and 950 revelers this was also one of the most fun parties in memory. The Smiths not only underwrote all expenses for the evening, but they also matched every dollar for dollar raised.

And with the Texas Children's Cancer Center event, they raised the bar on casual, western-themed evenings.

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Dr. David Poplack, left, with Sue and Lester Smith at the Texas Children's Cancer Center benefit that raised $9 million. Photo by © Michelle Watson/CatchlightGroup.com
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Lester and Sue Smith and President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush enjoy a Midas touch that Houston charities love. Photo by by Dave Rossman