The fifth annual Simon Benson Awards dinner was held Tuesday evening at the Oregon Convention Center. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was the keynote speaker for the event, which drew more than 900 people.
Albright served as the 64th secretary of state under the Clinton adminstration from 1997-2001. She was the first woman to hold this position and still has the designation of being the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States government.
During her tenure, Albright witnessed many controversial events related to human rights and international relations. At a pre-dinner press conference and during her keynote speech, Albright explained her views on the current administration’s foreign policy decisions in the Middle East, Iraq, Africa and North Korea.
Albright compared the current state of world affairs to the movie “A Perfect Storm,” calling world peace “troubled” and warning that the United States’ image is in disrepair.
Albright talked extensively about past and present conflicts between Israel and Palestine and her hope for peace in the future.
“Right now, it’s as bad as it has ever been since 1967,” she said. “At times, there have been hopes for peace, but at this stage there are not visible discussions.”
She applauded the current Bush administration for its “road map” for the area, but called for more direct involvement. “Right now, that road map is in the glove compartment, and they need more guidance from the United States,” she said.
Albright advocated the formation of an independent, democratic Palestinian state. She believes that both sides need to make an effort to change after decades of terrorist attacks. Israelis and Palestinians “have to choose between seizing an olive branch and seizing a sword,” she said. “What people have the power to choose, they have the power to change.”
She also spoke at length about the war in Iraq, calling it “not a war of necessity,” criticizing its timing and lack of planning for post-war involvement.
Albright took part in the United Nations early ’90s resolution to allow weapons inspectors into Iraq. The inspectors, however, were kicked out in 1998. She agrees that there are probably still some weapons of mass destruction unaccounted for but doesn’t consider them an imminent threat.
“I never believed there was a direct link between Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida,” Albright said.
In addition to U.S. involvement in the Middle East, Albright also encouraged the United States to help Iraqis get back on their feet. “We need to build rapidly on the progress that’s already been made and enable them to live normal lives, sooner rather than later,” she said.
Albright echoed her message of choice and expressed confidence that Iraq will rebuild itself with the proper support. “The reason has less to do with military power than it has to do with the power of ideas,” she said. “If the Iraqis are free to make choices, I think they’ll make the right choice.”
Albright finished with a warning about North Korea, saying it definitely has the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
“North Korea is one of the greatest threats to peace in Asia,” she said, calling it as dangerous as it is poor. “Missiles and bombs are their cash crop.”
She called for complete disarmament of North Korea, saying it must give up its nuclear program “completely, verifiably and immediately.”
“In the rest of the world, the Cold War ended decades ago. It’s time for it to end in North Korea,” she said.
The Simon Benson Awards are considered Portland’s premier philanthropic event, according to PSU’s Office of Marketing and Communications. At $200 per head, the guest list read like a who’s-who of Portland-area movers and shakers. Attendees at the pre-dinner reception discussed IPOs, stock options, tax-deductible donations and recent charitable events.
Also present at the dinner were PSU President Daniel O. Bernstine, Gert “Ma” Boyle of Columbia Sportswear, and numerous state and local government officials, including Multnomah County Chair Diane Linn, City Commissioner Serena Cruz and U.S. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield.
The awards are named after local philanthropist Simon Benson, whose more noticeable contributions to the Portland area include serving as the namesake for Benson Polytechnic High School, the “Benson bubbler” drinking fountains in downtown Portland and PSU’s historic Simon Benson House.
According to a PSU press release, the Simon Benson awards “recognize individuals in the community who are visionaries and have generously given time and/or money to support the lives of generations of Oregonians.”
Tuesday’s recipients of the Simon Benson awards were Elizabeth Hill Johnson and James F. Miller. Johnson, who lives in Redmond, is head of the Samuel S. Johnson Foundation, founded by her late husband in 1948. The foundation makes contributions to numerous organizations in the fields of education, health care, arts and culture, and social services.
Miller, a lifelong Oregonian, is a private investor and philanthropist. He has made numerous contributions to local schools and organizations, including Lewis and Clark College, Linfield College, Marylhurst University, and PSU.
Organizers anticipated earnings of $150,000 from the event, excluding the cost of having Albright speak.
Typically, Albright charges almost that amount to speak, but the award’s sponsors picked up the tab. Proceeds from the dinner were projected to benefit several general PSU funds, including the alumni fund and next year’s ceremony.