CORONADO — What's in a name?
Plenty, potentially, especially if by honoring a lengthy roster of names and the entertainers, educators and world leaders who bear them, San Diego's Women's International Center is able to raise the funds with which to erect its proposed Women's International Pavilion.
The list of names includes Kate Smith, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir, Empress Nagako of Japan, Sally Ride, Billie Jean King, Clare Booth Luce, Beverly Sills and Patricia Neal.
Should the Pavilion rise as planned on a rustic parcel of property near the Wild Animal Park (1992 is the target year for ground-breaking), it may well be multisided, to reflect the natures of the multifaceted women it will honor and serve.
Described by Women's International Center founder and President Gloria Lane as a "living, breathing showplace for women, set in a garden of creation," the pavilion is intended as the focus of a complex that will include a performing arts center, a library, galleries and archives.
The pavilion would be anchored squarely on funds raised by the center's Living Legacy Awards presentation banquets, of which the fourth annual was given Saturday in the Hotel del Coronado Grand Ballroom for some 500 guests.
The event traditionally is held in the first week of March to commemorate International Women's Day (March 8), and according to the program, the awards were designed to "acknowledge and honor the meaningful and lasting gifts given by women to humanity. The Award speaks particularly to generosity, character and integrity." To be a "living legacy," of course, is to be a person whose gifts to the present are perceived to have the power and worth to influence and benefit the future.
The recognition of women's contributions to the world may be the intention of the fund-raiser, but its side effect is to convoke a celebrity-studded gathering that probably contains a higher percentage of well-known names than any other annual event in San Diego. ("We've needed this kind of event to recognize outstanding women, and if we can bring it to this special corner of America, we'll have done a special thing for San Diego, just like bringing the Super Bowl and the America's Cup," said awards supporter Audrey Geisel.)
Ill health forced the absence of honorary center President Jihan Sadat, widow of late Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat; 1987 awards chairman Patricia Neal, and host Robert Young, but consider the following list of those present Saturday to accept awards or offer tributes:
Perhaps the best known on the international level would be Simone Veil, known as the "First Lady of Europe," and deputy president of the European Parliament; she is reputedly the most popular public figure in France. Israelis Menachem Meir and Sarah Meir Rahabi, children of late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, attended to accept the posthumous "Tribute to Greatness" awarded their mother. Actress Betty White was presented her award by one-time "Father Knows Best" star Jane Wyatt; British stage legend Dame Judith Anderson offered tribute to noted sculptor, poet and art historian Agnes Yarnall; Dr. Jonas Salk presented an award to singer Peggy Lee, and Jihan Sadat Peace Award winner Dr. Helen Caldicott, an internationally known advocate of nuclear disarmament, was introduced by Mothers Against Drunk Driving founder Candy Lightner. There were many more.
In other words, everybody was somebody, but lest it sound as if the proceedings moved forward slowly at a majestic pace measured with pomp, circumstance, ceremony and gravity, it should be mentioned that the affair effectively invited its guests to engage in unrelenting back slapping. Women's International Center founder Lane said her original idea was simply to "bring the women of the world together so they could do business and support one another," and this vision lived on at the award ceremonies, especially at the VIP reception that preceded the banquet. A virtual Niagara of congratulations seemed to flow constantly through the room as well-wishers bore down upon honorees, and honorees proffered their own good wishes to their fellows.
This congratulatory tone continued at the awards presentation. The first honoree, Alzheimer's Disease battler Anne Bashkiroff, said "To be included with such illustrious persons is an astonishment for me." Previous honoree Bree Walker, who introduced Lane, called the event "the Academy Awards of humanitarianism." Peggy Lee, who because of a broken pelvis was forced to accept her award from a wheelchair, said that she was "humbled by being in the presence of such greatness," and then provoked cheers and whistles when she offered to respond to the honor by giving a concert for the benefit of the women's center.