On Saturday, October 31, 2020, NIAF hosted its 45th Anniversary Gala, the first virtual Gala in the Foundation’s history—and what a Gala it was! We are thrilled to have accommodated thousands to celebrate our Italian American heritage and honor Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
For those who joined us that evening, thank you for helping make NIAF’s Gala the event of a lifetime. If you missed our Gala, we hope you’ll read this review and join the NIAF family to celebrate next year. This year’s Gala was filled with performances, heartfelt messages from celebrities and public figures, and a celebratory Post-Show which took place after NIAF awarded Dr. Fauci with NIAF’s 2020 Leonardo da Vinci Award for Leadership in Health and Science, live.
“On behalf of the Board of the National Italian America Foundation, thank you for being here,” welcomed NIAF Chairman Patricia de Stacy Harrison. “You know, 2020 continues to be such a challenging year as we deal with the impact of the global pandemic. But I believe you’ll find tonight’s celebration uplifting and hopeful. So, this evening we are coming together in a safe way to focus on the future and our vibrant Italian American heritage and culture, our commitment to young people through NIAF scholarships and reaffirmation of that strong Italian value of living life with gusto!”
The special evening started at 6:30 p.m. with the Pre-Show, allowing guests to adjust their technology and warm up for the program filled with festivities. To kick off the Gala, the operatic powerhouse The Sicilian Tenors performed a sun-kissed, upbeat rendition of the Italian classic Volare, which was followed by a world map showcasing the locations of guests tuning in to watch the Gala all across America from California to Kansas, from Tennessee to Maine, and showed viewers even stayed up to watch the Gala in Italy, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.
Featured messages during the Pre-Show from celebrities included Joe Mantegna, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Andretti, Massimo Ferragamo, Neil Sedaka, Dick Vermeil, and Bob Johnson, Bret Baier, Dionne Warwick, Franco Nuschese, Anjelica Huston, Jonathan Karl, Judge Greg Mathis (who donned a Fauci Gucci-spoofed sweatshirt while sitting in his court room), as well as veterans such as Diane Carlson Evans, a former army combat nurse, and Vietnam veteran and founder of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and WO2 (Ret.) Romulo “Romy” Camargo.
“[Dr. Fauci] and NIAF represent the best of America.” – Joe Mantegna
In her tribute, Emmy Award-winning television host, author, and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich related to Dr. Fauci grandparents as they were Italian immigrants who emigrated to America like herself. She shared her appreciation of Dr. Fauci adding that “the Italian community is very proud of [him].” As she closed her remarks, Lidia, smiling warmly, made sure to add: “When you’re in the mood for a good plate of spaghetti al pomodoro, give me a call. Congratulations.”
From Italy, Massimo Ferragamo, chairman of Ferragamo USA, humbly highlighted Dr. Fauci’s dedication to serving others when he said, “While fashion and style change over time, Dr. Anthony Fauci has not changed his commitment to serve America since he came to the National Institute of Health more than 50 years ago.”
Guests also heard from WO2 (Ret.) Romulo “Romy” Camargo and Gaby Camargo who together founded Stay in Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center, after Romy was paralyzed from a combat injury in Afghanistan. As their center serves a high-risk community, they thanked Dr. Fauci for his advice and recommendations that they have used to adapt and overcome the many challenges facing the pandemic.
“He and NIAF represent the best of America,” said Joe Mantegna, the Golden Globe award-winning actor, which was a sentiment shared by many.
After the series of messages, the Foundation shared sentimental testimonials and photos from one of its signature programs, the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery, an all-expenses paid, first-time travel to Italy for young Italian American adults, along with giving tribute to the generous benefactor who endowed the program, Ambassador Secchia, who sadly passed away this past October.
Last but not least, dedicating her own special culinary talents, Mary Ann Esposito, celebrity chef and host of Ciao Italia with Mary Ann Esposito, America’s longest running television cooking series, created a recipe in Dr. Fauci’s honor for NIAF’s Gala, which she guided guests through as the final segment of the Gala Pre-Show. Esposito’s delicious Fettucine Fauci ai Funghi Freschi is a fall pasta dish featuring fresh mushrooms, mascarpone and leeks that many made to enjoy while watching the Gala in the comfort of their own home.
As the clock struck 7 p.m., the official Gala festivities began with the evening’s hosts, Maria Bartiromo, NIAF Board Member, two-time Emmy Award winner, and anchor of Mornings with Maria and Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street on Fox Business Network, and Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo on Fox News Channel; and Joe Piscopo, NIAF celebrity Ambassador and radio show host, taking the screen to welcome the 5,000 guests that were virtually attending the Gala.
“Everyone is Italian tonight.” – Joe Piscopo
Bursting with energy and excitement for the evening ahead, Piscopo exclaimed, “Everyone is Italian tonight.”
“I’m always inspired the support, the engagement, Italian American community shows our organization across the country,” said Bartiromo. “Beyond recognizing our honorees and VIPs… none of this would be possible without you, without our supporters—the people and the companies that made this evening possible for us to continue cherishing our wonderful heritage. Those partnerships that allow NIAF to pursue its mission to serving all Italians and Italian Americans around the world and in America.
“To our sponsors, we are grateful to Abbott; Merck & Company; Becton, Dickinson and Company; Bristol-Myers Squibb; Carol Schramm; Equus Capital Partners Ltd.; Intesa Sanpaolo; Mr. and Mrs. Robert Carlucci and Family; Republic Bank; Bioventus; Deloitte – George & Maria Simeone; Hollister; Integra Lifesciences; KPMG LLC; PhRMA; Troutman Pepper; A.P. Construction; Gerard an Sandra LaRocca; JMA; Stevens & Lee; The Bracco Group; Again Life Italia; Anita & Tim McBride; Basil M. Russo; Dr. Audrey Manley; Dr. John Rosa; Frank and Susan Mattei; Frank Giordano and The Philly Pops; La Speranza Charitable Foundation; Michael Lunch; NIAF Chairman Patricia de Stacy Harrison; Nicholas Martini Foundation; Port System Authority of the Western Sicilian Sea; Rigenera Inc.; Textron-Bell Helicopter; The Honorary Consulate of the Republic of San Marino in Chicago and Consul Robert Allegrini; The John F. Scarpa Foundation; The Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America; and Wildlife Conservation Society.
Thank you, sponsors, for your generous support!
As Piscopo and Bartiromo closed their welcome, they introduced NIAF Chairman Harrison who welcomed guests and gave a toast to her late Co-chairman Gabriela A. Battista who passed away in January. Harrison shared that Italian American values were personified by Battista and that he loved the NIAF family dearly. “Gabe, this Gala is dedicated to you and we lift our glasses filled with your favorite Negroni,” said Harrison, “Salute.”
Then, Christina Carlucci, actress, singer and longtime NIAF supporter, gave a beautiful and moving performance of the United States National Anthem, which was followed by Marco Fiorante, Italian lyric tenor, to sing the Italian National Anthem.
After the national anthems, Reverend Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi gave the invocation from the altar of his Little Flower Parish in Bethesda, Md.
Next, NIAF welcomed messages from the U.S. Ambassador to the Italian Republic and the Republic of San Marino Lewis M. Eisenberg and Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio.
“Thank you, NIAF for this great opportunity to honor an unusual man who has made a great contribution to humanity and who demonstrates his Italian strength with American support and affection for all that he has done to control infectious diseases in the United States, Europe and around the world. Thank you, Dr. Fauci. You are definitely deserving of many honors.”
– U.S. Ambassador Lewis M. Eisenberg
From quarantining at the Ambassador’s residence in Rome, Ambassador Eisenberg shared, “Thank you, NIAF for this great opportunity to honor an unusual man who has made a great contribution to humanity and who demonstrates his Italian strength with American support and affection for all that he has done to control infectious diseases in the United States, Europe and around the world. Thank you, Dr. Fauci. You are definitely deserving of many honors.” The Ambassador reiterated Americans’ desire to combat the coronavirus: “Their love and freedom of democracy and the desire to join together to fight anything that would step in the way of that… It is with warm regards and salutations that I send from all of Italy to you Dr. Fauci and you my friends at NIAF, thank you, god bless and have a wonderful night.”
Ambassador Varricchio began his message with congratulating NIAF on its 45th Anniversary: “NIAF has accomplished much and there is certainly more to come. Its history is rich in activities from promoting the Italian language and culture in the United States, to strengthening the bonds between our two great counties…. Today, despite the difficulties leading to the pandemic, we are celebrating this NIAF milestone in new, innovative and creative format.”
“Dear friends, in these unprecedented times, what has not changed is the strength of our values to which our communities are so deeply attached to.”
– Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio
The Ambassador went on to greet Dr. Fauci and provided a sincere reminder of the strength and resilience of our community: “Dear friends, in these unprecedented times, what has not changed is the strength of our values to which our communities are so deeply attached to. Cari amici, the ties between our two countries are deeply rooted in history. We are proud of our heritage and cherish this opportunity to recognize American citizens of Italian descent whose hard work built a cohesive and well-established community who made relations between Italy and the United States and our two peoples truly unique. Indeed, it is our shared values of freedom, democracy and sense of community and family that has allowed us to face together the pandemic.”
As both ambassadors finished their messages, a heart-wrenching segment from PBS Frontline’s Inside Italy’s COVID War documentary played, which followed an Italian 18-year-old boy named Mattia, battling for his life against the coronavirus. Thankfully, Mattia survived, but the segment chronicles his weeks on a ventilator in I.C.U. along with the heroic healthcare workers tirelessly working to save him.
Mattia’s story had an uplifting ending, but we are somberly reminded of the hundreds of thousands of families in the United States, Italy, and the world, that never had their loved ones able to come home from the hospital.
Robert E. Carlucci, NIAF Vice Chair of Fund Development, then thanked NIAF supporters and sponsors who answered the call to donate to NIAF’s Coronavirus Relief efforts to help our brothers and sisters in the United States and Italy to combat COVID-19.
Following Vice Chair Carlucci’s message, NIAF debuted a video relaying the Foundation’s commitment to the Italian and Italian American community, especially during times of crisis. NIAF’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic along with its past relief projects for communities in Abruzzo and Umbria that were devastated by earthquakes, and NIAF’s programs to empower youth were highlighted in this featured video.
“I have always been a people person, caring about people. And that was one of the things that drove me into medicine as a profession… since I was a child… it was always people caring about each other and that is the hallmark of the Italian American experience.”
– Dr. Anthony Fauci
Then, for one of the gala’s most special segments, NIAF Chairman Harrison interviewed on Zoom Dr. Fauci, a recorded Q & A from a few weeks earlier. Both Chairman Harrison and Dr. Fauci grew up in Brooklyn, so the interview spanned the experience of their childhoods, Italian American heritage and COVID-19. Here are some of the highlights:
Harrison: How did growing up Italian in Brooklyn shape your childhood?
Fauci: It was a very nurturing and embracing atmosphere. You had your immediate family, but at least in the neighborhood I grew up in Bensonhurst Brooklyn, it was just an extended family. Literally… the entire neighborhood was your family. That to me, had a great influence on me because I have always been a people person, caring about people. And that was one of the things that drove me into medicine as a profession… since I was a child, as long as I can possibly remember, it was always people caring about each other and that is the hallmark of the Italian American experience.
Harrison: You mentioned before in terms of public service, did your dad have an influence in your decision to go into medicine?
Fauci: Well not going into medicine, but he was an interesting man… he was very much a nonmaterialistic public service-type of person. Because I remember in the drug store, the things he would do when people couldn’t pay for the prescription because they were having difficulty financially, he would essentially give it to them for free. Try to do that today in your Walgreens or CVS… but he would do that regularly. We didn’t make a lot of money at all. We just had enough to get along. It’s a good thing that I got scholarships through a lot of my scholarships, they didn’t have to pay a dime for my schooling, but his concern was taking care of his customers who were the neighborhood getting back to what we said just a moment ago, that culture of taking care of each other. He did that as the pharmacist of the neighborhood. It wasn’t a question of earning money, it was just the question of serving the public.
Harrison: I was thinking about what we are all going through today. And I think a lot of people want to know, what sustains you [through the pandemic]?
Fauci: What sustains me, Pat, is the importance and the significance of the problem that I’m addressing. We are right now, in the middle—and the end is not necessarily in sight—of a historic pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in 102 years, since 1918. You know, getting worn out, getting burned out, getting too tired to go any further, is not an option… It’s not in the cards. No matter many hours you work, no matter how worn out you feel, you just gotta keep going. The problem, it’s such a magnitude, you just can’t let it get ahead of you.
Harrison: We have so many young adults watching the Gala… and of course their lives have been disrupted, their inability to pursue careers, and what would you tell them about some kind of realistic hope for the future?
Fauci: Well that’s a great question, Pat. I emphasize that a lot, Pat… There will be an end to this. I know that sometimes we have been going through this, since February, so you’re talking eight months. t’s going to end, guarantee, we are going to get a vaccine, and the vaccine is going to diminish the infection rate, that together with good public health measures. It’s going take a while to gradually get back to the normal that we knew it, in its original form, but we will gradually get back to some form of normality, little by little and then we will be there. So, we don’t want people to despair. Throw their hands up in the air and say, “we are never going to see the end so what’s the difference? Let’s just go out and do what we want to do.” No, I think that’s the wrong approach… The end is in sight. Just hang in there. Do the kind of things you need, work this out together. We’ll be fine.
In the closing of the interview, Chairman Harrison transitioned to the next segment of the Gala by announcing we are going “from one Tony to another,” cueing legendary singer Tony Bennett’s heartfelt musical performance of his song Smile in tribute to Dr. Fauci.
I recently had COVID-19 along with my husband and my son so for that I just want to say thank you so much for all you’ve done for people like myself, my family and beyond. And for everything that you have taught us and all of the awareness that you’ve brought and all your incredible, tireless work around COVID.
– Giuliana DePandi-Rancic to Dr. Fauci
After the touching performance, Giuliana DePandi-Rancic, entertainment reporter and television host, shared her message to Dr. Fauci: “You know, we have a few things in common you and I. I actually moved to this country as a little girl from Napoli where your maternal grandparents are from and my father’s a master tailor from Naples like your grandmother who was a seamstress. But you know, in addition to those two things, I recently had COVID-19 along with my husband and my son so for that I just want to say thank you so much for all you’ve done for people like myself, my family and beyond. And for everything that you have taught us and all of the awareness that you’ve brought and all your incredible, tireless work around COVID. So, we thank you so much for that. Enjoy your honor tonight. it is so well-deserved, and I hope one day I can meet you in person.”
Rancic’s message to Dr. Fauci was followed by a series of celebrities and public figures:
“It is comforting to know a man like Dr. Fauci is at the helm during these challenging and disturbing times,” said the Emmy award-winning actor John Turturro. “And you know he’s from Brooklyn so that makes it a bit sweeter. I just want to say we really appreciate you Dr. Fauci. Keep communicating, keep doing what you do so well. Stay safe, healthy, wear a face mask. Grazie, grazie e buona salute.”
“Not only is [Dr. Fauci] a special Italian American—and we’re very proud of him… but he is also representing the best of America,” said Isabella Rossellini, award-winning filmmaker and actress. “In this challenging time, we do need the medical community to guide us and I am confident and grateful to Dr. Fauci for leading the effort… Tantissimi auguri e molti complimenti. Grazie.”
Congratulations on this wonderful honor and thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for leading us all through this incredibly thorny time with so much intelligence and integrity and clear-sightedness and even your humor,” praised Marisa Tomei, Academy Award-winning actor. “Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. And I know that the family has the pharmacy over on 13th Avenue, my family grew up right near there. I’m thinking you and I are just a prescription away from each other.”
You know we all know that you are a man of medicine… but… you are also a man of great heart and hope and you say it the way it is and you say it simple and honest. We trust you…Congratulations. I’d shake your hand, but you know that would be sort of inappropriate. We’re not touching so, ‘ciao.’”
– Al Pacino
“Tonight we’re all here to celebrate Dr. Anthony Fauci and his consummate work during this very awful time that we are faced with and we are so grateful to you for handling it, sort of showing us the way, giving us something to understand,” said Al Pacino, Academy Award-winning actor. “And that could be difficult I know, we all know it must take a lot of courage to go up there and deliver news that a lot of people may not want to hear but you do it. And to face the consequences of that the backlash, you’ve done that. Unbelievable and you do it with grace, you do it with compassion. You know we all know that you are a man of medicine, you are a man of science, but we all found out that you are also a man of great heart and hope and you say it the way it is and you say it simple and honest. We trust you, honestly, what can you say? Congratulations. I’d shake your hand, but you know that would be sort of inappropriate. We’re not touching so, ‘ciao.’”
“Dr. Fauci, I want to congratulate you on the occasion of this honor, this richly deserved honor,” said Martin Scorsese, Academy-Award winning director. “I was at the National Italian American Foundation receiving the Jack Valenti award a while back. Actually, it was 13 years ago and the world is a very different place today and as a New Yorker and as an Italian American, as a United States citizen and a citizen of the world, as a human being I simply want to say thank you. Thank you for keeping us all informed and bringing such care and humility and such dedication and such restraint to the task. And I’m sure that many people have complimented you on each of these characteristics. The last one in particular I just want to join and compliment you on that along with the others. You’ve given us so much and you really have been a model to us all. A model when younger people in particular or really all of us desperately need one… Thank you again Dr. Fauci and congratulations again.”
Additional messages were shared from Leon Panetta, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Douglas, John Paul Dejouria, and Andrea Bocelli, Bono, and Robert De Niro. Singer Dio DiMucci serenaded Dr. Fauci with a song he wrote for him called I Got The Cure, and Anthony and Joseph Russo, the directors of Avengers, called Dr. Fauci “a real superhero—and we’re experts in that field.”
We even had NIAF Vice Chair of Cultural Affairs Anita Bevacqua McBride introduce a special message from former President George W. Bush who as President awarded Dr Fauci our nation’s highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
NIAF Chairman Harrison, Vice Chair Carlucci, and Gala Chairman Joseph D. Lonardo then presented the 2020 Leonardo da Vinci Award in Leadership in Health and Science to Dr. Fauci. “The Leonardo da Vinci award itself is unique, handcrafted by Dante Mortet made specially for the National Italian American Foundation,” said Gala Chairman Lonardo of Mortet, a fifth-generation Italian sculptor whose work is found in museums and private collections worldwide.
“We are so pleased to present the Leonardo da Vinci award in Leadership in Health and Science to Dr. Anthony Fauci.”
– NIAF Chairman Patricia de Stacy Harrison
And the moment to award Dr. Fauci arrived. “On behalf of the Board of Directors of the National Italian American Foundation,” exclaimed Chairman Harrison, “we are so pleased to present the Leonardo da Vinci award in Leadership in Health and Science to Dr. Anthony Fauci.”
The screen switched swiftly to Dr. Fauci who had the award in hand and gave his remarks live: “I first want to start off by saying how humbled and honored I am by those extraordinary testimonials just given by people, some of whom I’ve known and work with over the years, but others of whom I’ve never met but whose art, performance and activities, I’ve valued so much over the years, people who I always felt it would be wonderful to have as friends and acquaintances to hear them talk to me in such a wonderful way is very moving to me and I value that very very much.” And Dr. Fauci congratulated NIAF on its 45th Anniversary.
“The warmth and the love and the caring, have been things that have really guided me throughout my live and I thank not only my parents for that but for the environment for that the Italian American culture and neighborhood provided for me that stays with me to this very day.”
– Dr. Fauci
“I’m really very proud to be an Italian American,” Dr. Fauci said. “And as I often think that my grandparents on my mother and father’s side, I’m sure are looking down at this, smiling with the beautiful smiles they gave to me as a child as I remember them…. As I mentioned to Pat, the Italian American heritage is a really important part of my identity. And the things that I said in that interview I meant very seriously. The warmth and the love and the caring, have been things that have really guided me throughout my live and I thank not only my parents for that but for the environment for that the Italian American culture and neighborhood provided for me that stays with me to this very day.”
After Dr. Fauci’s finished his remarks, Maria Bartiromo and Joe Piscopo congratulated him and announced NIAF’s creation of the Fauci Fellowships Program, to further recognize his contributions to humanity, and the medical and scientific community. The Fauci Fellowships will be initiated with a post-doctoral research grant of $100,000 to be divided equally between an American candidate and an Italian candidate.
As always, NIAF’s charming hosts closed our Gala thanking everyone for joining the Foundation for our first virtual Gala and sharing the sentiment that our Italian American community can gather together again, when it’s safe, someday soon.
Of course, it is always hard for Italian Americans to say goodbye, so NIAF had a brief Post-Show filled with more testimonials from Patti LuPone, Babyface, Dr. Julie L. Gerberling, Connie Francis, Mike Piazza, Alan Alda, Susan Lucci, Frankie Valli, Sharon Rockefeller, and Kristen Chenoweth.
Wearing a mask before his testimonial, Franco Harris, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, jovially said, “Congratulations Dr. Fauci! Come stai? Hopefully one day the world can say ‘bene.’ I look forward to seeing and hearing you every day. So, thank you for your dedication and hard work to make the world a safer place. My mother Gina Parenti would have said ‘Dr. Fauci he a gooda man.’ Dr. Fauci, you are a good man. And thank you for all the work that you do. The world needs you. Grazie.”
The Foundation is deeply grateful and humbled to have honored Dr. Fauci virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic and able to celebrate with thousands of Italians, Italian Americans, and Italophiles, including dozens of celebrities and public figures. Attendees raved about the entire experience, so begin planning now to join us next year on Saturday, October 23, 2021, for the NIAF 46th Anniversary Gala!