'Big, brave ideas': 44th annual Hutch Holiday Gala raises over $13 million

Community steps up to fuel the leading edge of cancer research
Man in suit stands with arms raised to the left of a blue screen announcing a $13,117,251 total raised.
Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland celebrates the total raised at the 2019 Hutch Holiday Gala, more than $13 million. Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

A bold vision. A tolerance for risk. And support and resources from the community: This is what it takes to do transformative research. More than 800 attendees of the 2019 Hutch Holiday Gala who share Fred Hutch’s vision to cure cancer raised more than $13 million during the Hutch’s signature fundraising event on Saturday.

It takes big ideas and commitment to cure cancer — and Fred Hutch and Seattle are the perfect incubators for these ideas, Matt McIlwain, chair of the Hutch board of trustees, said in his opening remarks.

“I like to compare the life cycle of innovation, which moves great ideas through research and on to become cures and other solutions, to the journey of an entrepreneur. Both begin with the curiosity to ask new questions, the openness to sometimes being wrong, and the determination to find better answers,” he said.

Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland echoed McIlwain’s sentiments as he looked back over his five years of Hutch leadership.

“I knew Fred Hutch was the cancer center with the most potential to find solutions for patients and families who are out of options,” he said of his decision to join the Hutch. “I feel even more strongly about this than I did five years ago — and I am proud of the work we are doing.” 

Two men in suits in front of a curtain lit with blue and fuschia toast each other with champagne.
Hutch board of trustees Chair Matt McIlwain (right) leads a toast to departing Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland (left). Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

The night began with a tribute to Gilliland, who was first introduced to the Hutch community at the 2014 Gala, and will transition to president emeritus in the coming year. To thank him for his years at the helm, Hutch leaders surprised Gilliland with a sparkling piano performance by 17-year-old Garfield High School senior Tony McCahill.

The life cycle of innovation

“It’s actually the risky projects which have the bigger chance of completely changing paradigm,” said Dr. Harmit Malik, a Hutch scientist who helped pioneer the field of paleovirology, in the night’s keynote video.

Hutch scientists are committed to doing paradigm-shifting work.

“The Hutch is investing in and partnering with Seattle’s innovation ecosystem. We are accelerating the understanding of how genomics, proteomics, immune systems and environmental factors contribute to both causing and curing cancer. And we’re harnessing the exponential potential of data science and cloud computing — two disciplines that put Seattle and Fred Hutch at the center of the cancer field’s intersection of innovation,” McIlwain said.

The crowd roared its approval of the night’s message: Now is the time, and Seattle is the place, to advance the bold ideas that will lead to breakthroughs.

“Big, brave ideas take money. They take risk. They take entrepreneurialism, they take people who have a different way of thinking about science, and a different way of thinking about business, and a different way of thinking about impact,” Hutch Vice President of Business Development & Strategy Dr. Niki Robinson said in the video.

“The why now is, why not now?” she said. “And why the Hutch? Where else is it going to be?”

Scientists willing to embrace the unknown and take risks drive cures forward.

‘Our community came together’

Attendees at the Gala have raised $150 million over the event’s 44 years. This year's Gala total was motivated by a $5 million challenge gift from longtime Hutch supporters J. Orin Edson and his family — the largest challenge in the Gala’s history.

“Orin was a treasured partner of Fred Hutch, and we are deeply grateful to him and his family for their support over three decades. Orin believed that his hometown cancer research center is the place to find cures,” Gilliland said.

The gift inspired attendees to exceed the evening’s $10 million goal. During the Help the Hutch portion of the event, guests raised their paddles for donations ranging from $1,000 to $1 million. James and Sherry Raisbeck — whose support of the Hutch over the years includes three endowed chairs — helped up the ante with a surprise $1 million donation.

A man and woman in evening attire laugh and clap.
Longtime Hutch supporters James and Sherry Raisbeck topped direct giving with a $1 million donation. Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

“When I started, I was only able to donate a little bit,” said longtime Gala attendee Cathy Boshaw, who celebrated her 35th Gala by kicking off Help the Hutch with a gift of $500,000. “But as you grow with it, donating becomes a passion.”

To raise funds for the Hutch’s research, guests also bid generously on a range of silent and live auction items, including a build-your-own-adventure 10-day trip to Spain and Wimbledon seats with an opportunity to volley with tennis legend John McEnroe, who unexpectedly took the stage to encourage bidding. Guests also bid for tickets to see the three-time Wimbledon winner — and musician — perform with his band at a VIP afterparty. Gala guest and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder joined McEnroe onstage at the afterparty for a performance of “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

A performance by the legendary Diana Ross capped the night. Hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Coming Out” brought everyone to their feet on the Sheraton Grand Seattle ballroom dance floor. By the encore, “I Will Survive,” dozens of guests had joined the consummate performer on the stage in a joyous moment of celebration.   

A woman in a flowing fuchsia gown sings into a microphone against a blue curtain in front of an audience.
Diana Ross' stirring performance inspired dozens to join her onstage. Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

“Our community came together to celebrate Fred Hutch, Gary Gilliland, and the hope that science offers for the future,” said Kelly O’Brien, Fred Hutch’s vice president of Philanthropy, after the event. “It’s inspiring and motivating to see so many people raising their hands high to invest in our researchers. We are grateful that our donors, like us, believe that Seattle is the place where creative ideas and collaborations will lead to new discoveries and to cures.” 

A personal connection to the bravery of patients

Many in the audience have been personally touched by cancer and understood too well the need to keep pushing for discoveries and more treatment options.

“I really believe in what the Hutch does in terms of curing cancer. Cutting-edge technologies kept my brother alive,” said guest Alice Jolla, who attended with friend Nari Williams, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor. “Plus, attending the Gala is easier than Base 2 Space!” she said, referencing the Fred Hutch fundraising event that features a climb up the Space Needle’s 832 open-air steps.

“We should never forget patients that have gone through therapies and how much they’ve sacrificed,” said Hutch Executive Vice President and Deputy Director Dr. Fred Appelbaum in the video. “I’d love to see our community become as brave as our patients.”

Gala attendee and multiple myeloma patient Janice Olson is one of those patients. She took a life-extending chance on an experimental treatment in a clinical trial led by Hutch multiple myeloma researcher Dr. Damian Green and is now in remission. She said the Hutch and its mission reminded her of the ending line from a favorite poem, of a doorway to magic and mystery.

“The Hutch operates from a place of magic and mystery. I’ve been told I’m not cured — my multiple myeloma will return. As a patient, I represent the more to be done,” she said. “Donors have the opportunity and the power to open that door.”

Sabrina Richards, a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, has written about scientific research and the environment for The Scientist and OnEarth Magazine. She has a PhD in immunology from the University of Washington, an MA in journalism and an advanced certificate from the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University. Reach her at srichar2@fredhutch.org.

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