Holocaust Museum Houston to Honor Two Houstonians as Guardians of the Human Spirit

HOUSTON, TX (Oct. 18, 2007) –Two Houstonians whose visionary insight, personal determination and leadership have made our community and our world better places in which to live will be recognized for their efforts this fall as Holocaust Museum Houston presents its annual "Guardian of the Human Spirit” luncheon.

Philanthropists and long-time Museum supporters Lester and Sue Smith will be recognized at the event, set for 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007, at the Westin Galleria Houston hotel, 5060 W. Alabama.

The Museum established the Guardian of the Human Spirit award in 1997 as a platform for acknowledging dedicated Houstonians who have worked to enhance the lives of others and to better humankind.

"Through their actions, Lester and Sue have made the impossible possible for many of Houston’s leading non-profit institutions, but more importantly, they have touched the lives of thousands of ordinary citizens in a way that has inspired and called others to action," said Museum Chair Walter Hecht in announcing this year’s honorees.

"When Lester and Sue Smith get involved in something – whether it’s a community cause or a personal interest – they become passionate supporters. Their generous contributions of time and talent have endeared them to numerous individuals and organizations in the Houston community," Hecht said.

Hecht pointed to the Museum’s existing Holocaust railcar exhibit and its most recent acquisition – that of a Danish rescue boat of the type used to save more than 7,200 Jews from almost certain execution during World War II – as classic examples of the Smiths’ commitment to helping the Museum teach the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.

"Our railcar and other artifacts tell the stories of incredible evil committed by ordinary people against their very own neighbors. They remind us of the horrible injustices that occurred while much of the world stood idly by and did nothing," he said. "But with the acquisition of our Danish rescue boat, our visitors can also learn of the heroic efforts of good people who refused to be bystanders and did the right thing, even at the risk of their own lives. Neither of those exhibits would have been possible without the support of The Smith Foundation," he said.

The Smith Foundation also underwrites several other programs, including The Lester and Sue Smith Distinguished Lecture Series, a series of free public lectures presented throughout the year. The foundation also has been an avid supporter and underwriter of previous Guardian of the Human Spirit programs as well as the Museum’s Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award dinner.

The Smiths’ support of numerous organizations in Houston’s non-profit community and their zest for life have never dwindled over the years, despite their own personal challenges.

For more than 17 years, Lester battled bladder cancer. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 and was successfully treated at Baylor College of Medicine. Avid ballroom dancers, the Smiths were back on the dance floor weeks after Lester’s surgery, and only eight months later, Lester and Sue won their first of two national titles – the United States Grand Senior Latin Dance Championship.

When Lester was diagnosed with both bladder and prostate cancer, the couple turned to the experts at Baylor College of Medicine to help them fight these diseases. Turning Lester’s personal battle with prostate cancer into a public campaign, in 2004 the Smiths founded "The Honor Your Father Campaign for Prostate Cancer Research." This year-long fundraising effort impacted thousands of lives, becoming the largest single fundraising event in the history of the college, raising a record-breaking $6.4 million including a match by The Smith Foundation. In recognition for their incredible leadership and support, the new Lester and Sue Smith Urology Clinic was recently dedicated.

The Smiths spearheaded a campaign to increase support for BCM through membership in The Partnership for Baylor College of Medicine, the College’s preeminent volunteer advocacy group. This campaign, again underwritten by The Smith Foundation, has resulted in triple membership increases in the last two years. Sue and Lester Smith were named Outstanding Volunteer Fundraisers at the 2006 Association for Fundraising Professionals Awards luncheon.

Known for their flair and creativity, the Smiths left their indelible mark as chairs of the 2007 Partnership Gala that raised $1.5 million for the Baylor clinic. The dynamic couple has agreed to chair the galas through 2010 and is currently hard at work on the 2008 gala. As part of a substantial grant, The Smith Foundation will underwrite all event expenses and match all funds raised for the 2008 gala beneficiary, the Breast Center that was recently renamed the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center.

In 2007, The Smith Foundation announced a $30 million challenge grant to BCM's Breast Center and the Human Genome Sequencing Center at BCM, accelerating the delivery of personalized medicine to Breast Center patients and the pursuit of genomic research to predict, prevent and cure breast cancer. In recognition of the Smiths’ generosity, the Breast Center was recently renamed the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center.

With the same passion and vision that inspired their work at BCM, Sue and Lester have assisted in breaking records in attendance and membership at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS). The Smith Foundation presented "Body Worlds 3: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies," which set new membership and attendance records, becoming the largest attended exhibition in that museum’s history. Avid rock and gem collectors, Sue and Lester’s interest in science education led to the creation of the Lester and Sue Smith Gem Vault, featuring the most extraordinary cut and polished jewels ever displayed in a single permanent exhibition. The Smith Foundation has also provided major funding for "Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia," and the Museum’s new satellite facility in The Woodlands.

Drawing from their extensive background in competitive dancing, Sue and Lester chaired the 2006 Orange Show Gala, "Dance Like No One’s Watching," which broke all previous attendance and fundraising records. The couple’s creativity was called upon in 2007 when they agreed to serve as Entertainment Chairs of the Ballet Ball. In 2007, Sue Smith co-chaired the Houston Chronicle "Best Dressed 25th Anniversary Gala" benefiting March of Dimes. Sue’s fashion savvy and meticulous attention to detail were put to work as she hosted the much-anticipated "Best Dressed Announcement Party" in her home, and transformed the decades-long event from a luncheon to one of the most anticipated evening events in Houston’s social season. The gala was an unprecedented success, becoming the largest fundraising event in the history of March of Dimes Houston. Most recently, Sue was named as a 2008 Woman of Distinction.

Numerous Houston organizations have honored Sue and Lester for their immense philanthropic spirit including the Assistance League, BCM, Houston Children’s Charity, and The Heart Association. In 2006, Sue was honored for her fabulous style and community activism when she was named to the Houston Chronicle’s "Best Dressed" list. 

Lester is a trustee of Baylor College of Medicine, and a member of the Board of Directors of Holocaust Museum Houston, Board of Visitors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Board of Directors of the National Prostate Cancer Foundation. He is a trustee of the Houston Museum of Natural Science and will serve as chairman of the board in 2008.

Previous recipients of the award have included Sandra Weiner and Martin Fein; Naomi Warren and Fred Zeidman; Joan and Stanford Alexander; Ed Wulfe; the H-E-B grocery chain; Jack Blanton; The Houston Chronicle; the Rev. William A. Lawson; Ron Stone; Julie and Ben Rogers; Linda P. Lay; and Siegi Izakson.

This year’s luncheon is chaired by Ambassador Arthur Schechter and wife Joyce. The Honorable Fred S. Zeidman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and a member of the Houston Museum’s Board of Directors, is serving as finance chairman.

Proceeds from the luncheon presentation of this award are used to continue the Museum's worldwide educational programming and its policy of free admission to the general public so that there is never a financial barrier to anyone interested in learning the lessons of the Holocaust. For ticket information, call 713-942-8000, ext. 130 or e-mail spiritlunch@hmh.org.

Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the six million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.

Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline Street, Houston, Texas 77004.

For more information, call 713-942-8000 or visit
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