Joseph Abboud wants to be the men’s wear industry champion for prostate cancer awareness.
And he’s off to a strong start.
The designer was one of the honorees at the Fans for the Cure All-Star Celebration dinner at the Edison Ballroom in Times Square Tuesday night along with football great and Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms and Dr. James McKiernan, urologist-in-chief of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital.
The dinner was a lively affair with several former sports stars in attendance including Dodger first basemen Steve Garvey, career-long Met Ed Kranepool (who was a month out from a kidney transplant), former Jets running back Bruce Harper and an upbeat and humorous Bobby Valentine, who was among the hosts for the event.
Valentine, who played for the Dodgers, Mets, Angels and Mariners and also managed several teams including Abboud’s beloved Red Sox, was so animated in fact that he nearly danced around the stage in his double-breasted pinstripe Joseph Abboud suit — “I got it at Nordstrom” — as he doubled as an auctioneer for a live auction of two custom Abboud suits.
Thanks to Valentine’s ability to work the room and Abboud’s offer to up the ante by creating three custom suits for the winner, the bid topped out at $16,000.
But the evening was more than fun and games. It was a serious affair intended to raise awareness for a disease that will strike one in nine American men in their lifetimes.
The point was driven home when Fans for the Cure executive director Laura Gallo asked everyone to stand and pick up the walnuts in front of their dinner plates. She first pointed out that the prostate gland is the size of a walnut and then asked everyone to sit down except for the men at the table who had a walnut painted blue. “Look around the room,” she said of the men still standing. “That’s why we’re all here tonight.”
The message was also made clear during the formal part of the evening. First, Fans for the Cure’s president and founder Ed Randall, a longtime New York radio and TV sports reporter, recounted how he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999 and said “a simple PSA [prostate-specific antigens] blood test can save lives.”
Garvey, chairman of the nonprofit organization, then told about how he needed a radical prostatectomy after being diagnosed five years ago when his gland had swelled to the size of a baseball. It was at this point that he decided he would be a “disciple for other men” and spread the word. Although many people think the disease is slow-growing and doesn’t need to be addressed, Garvey said that’s not true. “People say you’ll die with it. No, you’ll die from it,” he said.
In accepting his award, Abboud brought the crowd to tears when he told the story about how his father, a machinist at a candy factory in Boston, was severely injured on the job and disabled for the rest of his life.
Before the accident, Joe Abboud, as he was called, was an outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. He was also a diehard Red Sox fan. The designer said one of his fondest memories is sitting next to his dad listening to Red Sox games on a transistor radio. “We never went to Fenway together, perhaps because of his disability and because he simply didn’t have the money to take me, but that didn’t matter to me. We loved our team and we were together, and that’s all that mattered.”
The elder Abboud died right before his son was getting ready to be the first person in the family to graduate from college. “The cause of death? Bone cancer stemming from prostate cancer. He was 60 years old.”
While Abboud never got over the “profound sadness” of losing his father, he feels his presence is still there. When the designer threw out the first pitch at Fenway in 2002, the screen behind him read: “In honor of his dad, Joe Abboud, who was a lifelong Red Sox Fan.”
“So, you see Dad, we finally did get to Fenway together after all.”