Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani joined Portland State University in recognizing the efforts of two of Portland’s premiere philanthropists at the fourth-annual Simon Benson Awards Dinner on Monday night.
The sold-out event, held at the Oregon Convention Center, saw a record 1,100 in attendance.
“I’m very impressed with the lives and careers of the two people you’re honoring here tonight,” said Giuliani of Jeannine Cowles and Ernest “Ernie” Swigert, both longtime supporters of the arts in Portland.
“The arts are very important,” Giuliani said. “It’s the way in which the human spirit expresses itself.”
The evening began with an original song composed by Keith Clark, director of PSU orchestral studies, sung by Former Miss America Katie Harman, with violin by Nelly Kovalev and piano by Darrel Grant, assistant professor of jazz studies at PSU.
The lives of the two award recipients were recreated through a series of comments from their friends and family, delivered by a troupe of actors: Melody Bridges, Matt Higgins, Carmela Lanza-Weil, William Tate and Joyce Wood. Each life story unfolded with the help of period photographs and music performed by Darrel Grant.
Cowles, a singer who performed on Broadway and in Europe with the musical “Oklahoma!” was an integral supporter of opera at Portland State, helping Ruth Dobson establish PSU as a key player in Portland Opera.
“It’s when you’re allowed to be a part of something that’s really great, and Ruth allowed me to do that,” Cowles said.
Ernie Swigert, famous for his impressive dinners, had his life presented as a seven-course meal, each course being a different period in his life.
A graduate of Milton Academy and Harvard, Swigert was born in Portland and spent 30 years in Europe before returning to Oregon in 1984.
Among his many philanthropic gestures was his recent donation of a Van Dyke original to the Portland Art Museum.
Swigert’s brother Henry accepted the award on his behalf.
“What a marvelous tribute to our brother Ernie,” Henry said.
“It’s something our family is proud to accept, and may I say on behalf of him that he deserves this. He’s a really generous guy,” Henry said.
Sho Dozono, chairperson of the Portland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and president of Azumano Travel, which coordinated the Flight for Freedom, a gesture of support from Portland residents following the Sept. 11 attacks of last year, introduced Giuliani.
Giuliani talked about leadership, detailed the four principles he feels are most important to a good leader, and told how those principles helped him deal with the September attacks.
Chief among those principles was understanding courage.
“Courage is not the absence of fear,” Giuliani said.
When a cell phone rang during his speech, Giuliani responded, “You can get that call, it’s okay,” causing the crowd to erupt into laughter.
After his prepared remarks, Giuliani took questions from the audience. Responding to a question about where his passion came from, he remarked, “That’s part of being Italian.”
He then spoke about education and expressed support for the Use of Force resolution, which gives the president the ability to use military action against Iraq if diplomatic measures fail to see disarmament.
When asked what he felt should be done at the site of the World Trade Center, Giuliani said, “I think ground zero should be a memorial. It should be a library; a museum; a grand, soaring structure that reminds.”
“We thought it would be great to have him here to speak,” said PSU President Daniel Bernstine.
“I think he’s very impressed with what we’re doing,” Bernstine said.
“I think he was fantastic. He’s always very inspiring, and I think the principles of leadership which he discussed were very applicable, especially here in Oregon,” said Katie Harman, former Miss America and PSU student.
“I think it’s a lot of fun and it gives you a lot of confidence in the university.” said Ian Ruder, co-coordinator of PSU Student Ambassadors, of the awards ceremony. “It’s too bad that there aren’t more students in attendance.”
Simon Benson was one of Oregon’s first philanthropists. His gift of the four-bowled Benson Bubblers to the City of Portland ensured his lasting memory, and the Benson Awards continue that legacy.
The Simon Benson awards were sculpted by Michihiro Kosuge, professor of art and chairman of the department of art. The event was organized by Leslie Grasa.