This is a story about a legend and a young lady.
Arguably the late John Wayne — or the "Duke," as locals still like to call him — lives on in memory with tremendous adoration in the hearts of locals who recall his formidable presence in the Newport-Mesa community. The movie star from the so-called golden age of Hollywood films died of cancer 32 years ago.
Following his passing, the extended Wayne family created the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, or JWCF, in an effort to help eradicate cancer through research and medical advancement. Since then, much has been accomplished, in part due to the millions of dollars raised and donated by the foundation in pursuit of a cure.
The Newport-Mesa auxiliary of the Wayne Foundation is known as Team Duke. Last week on the greens of tony Pelican Hill, a young lady named Alexandra Richardson organized a golf tournament in the icon's name.
Richardson was not born before Wayne's death in June 1979. But that's just how strong the Wayne legend is on the Orange Coast. There are young people who don't know the name Eisenhower, have no clue about Herbert Hoover, unless they have see the musical "Annie" 10 times, and probably have no image of stars, including Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy or Henry Fonda. Yet there is no mistaking John Wayne.
Richardson, 29, grew up in Newport Beach and attended local schools. Her maternal grandmother was the late Balboa Island restaurateur and much loved social and philanthropic standout Amelia Seton, a longtime friend of the Duke. He frequented Amelia's dining room, often holding court and recounting Hollywood tales for the rapt locals and tourists. They could not quite believe who was sharing dinner with them in the intimate European dining room over a perfect fettuccine alfredo with a lemon caper sautéed catch of the day and a chilled glass of chardonnay.
As the dawn of her 20s nears, Alexandra joined forces with Team Duke, a group of young professionals, and made a pledge to raise $30,000 for the cancer foundation before she hits the big 30 next May.
The young mother and real estate saleswoman created a major task for herself. It all started four months ago, when the athletic Richardson went to Team Duke to find out if they sponsored a golf event. The answer was "no," so she went to work. On June 24, the first annual Team Duke tournament unfolded, raising an impressive $7,500 toward her goal of $30,000.
Sponsored by local businesses like Southern Wine and Spirits, Waterpointe Homes and Riviera Magazine, among others, a solid field of 72 local golfers paid $300 per person to enter the daylong event, which culminated with a dinner and auction in the Pelican Hill Clubhouse dining room. Richardson called the tournament Grit on the Greens.
"Our next tournament will be early in 2012. We want to double the field with 144 players and a much larger party afterwards," said Richard, who must raise an additional $22,500 by May.
Team Duke is behind her all the way.
The first-place winners of the inaugural event were Brad Johnson, Trip Secrist, Mike Arnold and Jeremy Skiver. Other supporters were David Bradburne, Brad Smith, Emily Strombatni, Mark Zielinski, Jane Khols, Robert Taylor, Keith Bradshaw, Mark Cage, Garrett Calacci and Mike Close. Also supporting the John Wayne Cancer Foundation were Janet Curci, Martha Gewertz, Linda English, Caroline Siefert, Liz Smith and Alina Kessler.
In the end, it was a day of golf "bringing courage, strength and grit to the fight against cancer," as the John Wayne Foundation mantra states. For more information, go to http://www.teamduke.org.
THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.