“Spirit of Life”
A City of Hope hospital tribute dinner on June 4, 1972 honored Walter O’Malley and presented him with the “Spirit of Life” award in recognition of “his deep concern for the dignity and welfare of his fellow man which symbolizing the aims and aspirations of the City of Hope.”
Headlining the Century Plaza hotel affair were celebrities, sports stars and civic leaders, including Red Buttons, Rosalind Russell, Jack Warner, Lou Rawls, Stan Musial, Casey Stengel, Chuck Connors, Bowie Kuhn, Walter Alston, Don Sutton, Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin and Vin Scully.
Art Linkletter, the dinner’s witty emcee, commented upon the praise O’Malley received for his charitable activities to the City of Hope patient care, rehabilitation and research hospital, “all that still remains to be done is to name a disease after you, Walter.”
Russell spoke of O’Malley as “controversial as well as great, which makes him an exciting human being, both sweet and wonderful, much more than a generous person.”
Martin Meyerson, President of the University of Pennsylvania, O’Malley’s alma mater, sent a congratulatory telegram stating “back in the era of the raccoon coat, you had distinguished yourself as big man on campus.”
Baseball Commissioner Kuhn said, “The thing that most marks Walter’s contribution to the game has been constructivism. Walter has been a constructive force in the game. You get into a thing like baseball and it’s a partnership…and it takes pulling the oars together more than anything else if it’s going to work right. And more than any other sport in the history of this continent, surely, this one has worked right for a long time. And one of the reasons it has worked as well as it has worked is the contribution of Walter Francis O’Malley.
“Time and again I have, from the difficult perch upon which I sit, found it necessary to talk to some of the leaders of our game about directions in which we should go and Walter is always included in that. Invariably, I have been able to count on Walter laying aside his personal interests in the Los Angeles Dodgers and looking to what is constructive for the game of baseball. He could have been a great man in any field he got into.”
Three-time National League MVP catcher Campanella said “The only mistake I made was getting in that auto accident, which kept me from ever playing in Los Angeles.” He thanked O’Malley and said the opportunity to play with the Dodgers “made my dream come true.”
Scully called O’Malley, “Not just a man of success, but a man of value, and there is a vast difference between the two.”
Linkletter explained how he first met the poker-playing O’Malley at a private resort in Northern California with other businessmen. “I thought then that he was a professional gambler on vacation up there who brought his own coterie of pigeons along.”
Summing up the evening which established the Walter F. O’Malley Research Fellowship Fund and raised $100,000 for the hospital, Linkletter quipped, “You’ve heard a great many beautiful things said about you tonight, Walter. Why not? After all, nobody is under oath!”
Sources: Joe Hendrickson, Pasadena Star-News, June 6, 1972; City of Hope Dinner audio tape June 4, 1972