In early 2004, a lovely woman asked if she could donate an auction item for the Courage 4 Life Golf Tournament I was hosting to support the Rivkin Center. She had a bright smile, mischievous eyes, and a heart of gold. Her name was Rita Smith. Rita was in the middle of battling ovarian cancer and wanted to help others in a meaningful way. She donated a basket full of goodies she thought someone would enjoy.
Over the next 11 years, Rita’s Basket Brigade became the highlight of our silent auction. The auction grew from two small events hosted by the Fisher and White families into the Family & Friends Auction, which raises over $1 million annually. We never knew how many baskets would show up, but often times, there were more than 20. I enjoyed listening to those milling around in the silent auction as they explored the themed baskets. No matter what she and the brigade built, someone bought them! In 12 years, 150 baskets raised over $60,000! That’s enough to fund a Scientific Scholar Award to an emerging ovarian cancer researcher for a year!
On March 17, Rita passed away after a long, courageous battle with ovarian cancer. When I heard the news, I was moved to tears. Over the past 12 years, Rita and I formed a bond because of her kindness and deep desire to help women who were battling or would battle this disease. When I became the Executive Director of the Rivkin Center, I nominated Rita as the Courage for Life Awardee, which was awarded in November 2015. In my first year as Executive Director, I was honored to give this award to my friend Rita. Rita’s passion in life was helping others. This was evident yesterday, when family and friends shared how she gave back to her community, helped to create job opportunities for high school students in the Kirkland and Redmond communities, and created Teen CEO, a competition for students based on the TV show Shark Tank.
Rita’s family and friends intend on continuing to make baskets for the silent auction to help the Rivkin Center raise money in her honor. We weren’t best friends, but we shared a connection through a disease and a basket. The world lost a great friend. We will miss you!