SF: Inside Shanti’s 41st Anniversary Dinner

Nancy Pelosi, James Hormel and Kaushik Roy
Nancy Pelosi, James Hormel and Kaushik Roy

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography

Shanti’s 41st Anniversary Dinner, Compassion is Universal, was a sprinkle of comedy, a twist of politics, a dash of “America’s Top Model,” a pinch of “Dancing with the Stars” and a heaping portion of kindness. The memorable evening took place Oct. 14. at The Palace in downtown San Francisco with 525 guests celebrating the organization that aims to provide direct support to San Francisco’s most vulnerable neighbors faced with a life-threatening illness.

The event, presented by Nordstrom, chaired by Bahya Oumlil-Murad and sponsored by Haute Living, drew notables such as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who provided opening remarks during the evening’s reception, Supervisor Jane Kim, Supervisor London Breed, Supervisor Scott Weiner, Supervisor David Campos, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, State, City Treasurer Jose Cisneros, California State Senator Mark Leno and California State Assembly member David Chiu were in attendance.

During her speech at the reception, which included a silent auction, Pelosi showed her wit and charm, along with the fact that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, as she talked to her constituents as if they were old friends—and some are. She got a kick out of the fact that the Honorable James C. Hormel was receiving the 2015 Nancy Pelosi Lifetime Achievement Award that evening. “I’m honored that an award named for me is being bestowed upon you—by me—with all of our friends here tonight,” she told Hormel, who was the first openly gay U.S. Ambassador. “That takes courage to be the first.”

Later, at the dinner in the elegant Grand Ballroom, Shanti Founder Dr. Charles Garfield presented the award named for Pelosi to Hormel and Omar Sharif Jr., who was so entertaining as host that he should think about a career in stand-up comedy, handed the James C. Hormel Community Service Award to Keith Waltrip, a longtime HIV/AIDS advocate and Shanti volunteer.

Sharif Jr., whose grandfather Omar Sharif was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Lawrence of Arabia, told of how he was forced to leave Egypt overnight after he came out as gay in an open letter. “I went from being Egypt’s favorite son to public enemy No. 1,” he said, adding that he received death threats and was called everything from a pedophile to a deviant. “I was forced to leave overnight. I moved to Los Angeles, not because I thought they’d be compassionate to a political refugee, but, well, because I thought they’d be welcoming to celebrity offspring. If I was looking for compassion, I would have come here to San Francisco.” And for that last statement, he drew much applause.

Speaking of crowd pleasers, professional dancer Sasha Farber from “Dancing with the Stars” showed off his moves during a dance performance. Guests feasted on a three-course meal, prepared by Jesse Llapitan, executive chef at The Palace, that included a butter lettuce salad and filet mignon. Before the live auction got underway, auctioneer Lenny Broberg, whom we always take delight in watching work, perhaps summed up the evening best when he said to Shanti executive director Kaushik Roy, “I hate that you’re still employed, but I love the job that you’re doing.”

Eugena Washington in Vera Wang
Eugena Washington in Vera Wang

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography


During the high-energy live auction, the stunning Eugena Washington from “America’s Top Model” flaunted a $17,000 Vera Wang gown onstage that  went for $5,000. A bidding war between Gus Murad and another gentleman over a trip to the Seychelles, valued at $30,000, broke out. In the end, a third man popped out of nowhere and claimed the package for $17,000. The Fund-A-Need portion was even more exciting—and heartwarming—to witness. A $10,000 pledge got things off to a wonderful start. At one point, so many Shanti supporters were holding up paddles to pledge that even Broberg had a hard time keeping up. When the pledge level hit $250, John Sell offered to match the remainder of the pledges.

At the end, approximately $535,000 had been raised. Shanti has expanded from its base of serving people with HIV to include service to women with breast and other types of cancer; this summer it merged with its long-time community partner, Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS).

Clara Shayevich and Bahya Oumlil-Murad
Clara Shayevich and chair Bahya Oumlil-Murad

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography

“What an exciting night!” Oumlil-Murad enthused. “Since merging with PAWS and Shanti expanding its services to all women cancers this year, there are a lot more clients to serve. It added a great deal of pressure to the evening. I was a bit anxious to find out how much we raised and was thrilled to hear it was over $500,000. I’m very grateful for our team’s hard work, everyone’s generosity and for the support of Omar Sharif Jr, Sasha Farber and Eugena Washington. Without everyone’s heartfelt contributions, the night would not have been such a great success.”

The boldface names who came from other states to participate in this successful evening were quite impressed.

“It is so special to be here hosting an event for an organization that supports more than our community, but our common humanity,” Sharif Jr., said.

Washington added, “What an honor to be a part of such an amazing organization that thrives on compassion and serving others when they are most vulnerable. I was truly inspired by such a magical evening.”


Photos by Drew Altizer Photography