One part swan song, one part memorial, and four parts over-the-top fun, the Memorial Hermann Foundation "Circle of Life" gala rocked the night for the 1,600 guests who packed the Hilton Americas-Houston ballroom. And with $2.9 million in the kitty, there was plenty to celebrate.
First was the salute to Life Flight founder the late Dr. James "Red" Duke, Memorial Hermann's "Father of Trauma." The evening's honoree was praised by Memorial Hermann Health System president and CEO Dan Wolterman, who noted “From his down-home Texas wit and charm to his signature wire-rimmed glasses, careworn cowboy hats and bristle-brush mustache, Dr. Red Duke was one of Houston's most recognizable personalities."
Wolterman announced that for Duke's role in founding the air ambulance program in 1976 and serving as its medical director for nearly four decades, the hospital's trauma institute is being renamed the Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute. Duke's daughter, Dr. Sara Duke, and her husband, Charles King, received the honors on the family's behalf.
And then came the surprise video salute to Wolterman, who recently announced his retirement. In addition to accolades from colleagues, friends and Memorial Hermann Health System board members, it was announced that a Life Flight helicopter would be named in Wolterman's honor. And with that, he was joined on stage by the entire Life Flight crew for presentation of a model of his personalized chopper.
That little gem was second only to the massive helicopter crafted from fresh flowers by A Memorable Event, which filled the ballroom with floating clouds adorned with crystals.
“After 17 rewarding years of service with Memorial Hermann, retiring from this organization is like giving up your kids," Wolterman told the gathering. "But from a distance, I will watch with the eyes of a proud parent as the next generation of leadership takes Memorial Hermann to a bigger and brighter future.”
That next generation is in the hands of Dr. Benjamin K. Chu, who takes over as Wolterman's successor today. He and other headliners of the evening included gala chair Susan Sarofim and honorary chairs Clarence Cazalot, Walter Johnson, and Jim Smith.
After dinner, the band Simply Irresistible, in from Atlanta, took over the gala, turning it into an energized bash as guests donned gimme caps with the Life Flight logo and made use of the bright red selfie sticks that served as party favors.
Joining the festivities were Lori Wolterman, Ileana and Michael Trevino, Cathy and Giorgio Borlenghi, Gary Petersen, Donna and Tony Vallone, Dr. Giuseppe Colasurdo, Cathy and Joe Cleary, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, Allison and Craig Cordola, Deborah and Gardner Cannon, Alice and Keith Mosing, Sherry Smith, Suzie and Larry Johnson, and Jo Lynn and Gregg Falgout.