The annual Race to Erase MS Gala looked quite a bit different this year. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization pivoted to a new model and hosted the “Drive-In to Erase MS” on Friday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
But even with the change of venue, the trademark orange carpet remained. Instead of walking the carpet, guests like Anne Heche, Lucy Hale, Loni Love, Maureen McCormick, Jovan Adepo and Mark-Paul Gosselaar drove over it and posed in, on and around their vehicles.
In keeping with COVID-19 protocols, guests were asked to enjoy the event from inside their vehicles and encouraged to honk their horns and flash their high-beams in applause, while parked six feet apart. Gift bags included hand sanitizer and orange Race to Erase MS-branded face masks, while dinner was catered by Craig’s and delivered in to-go style lunchboxes. Large inflatable screens were positioned around the field to make sure that everyone could have a view of the stage.
“This event is nothing short of a miracle. The past six months have been challenging for all of us, but this is exactly why we’re here tonight, to persevere in an unprecedented time and bring us one step closer to erasing MS,” Nancy Davis said.
Davis, who founded the organization in 1993 after she was diagnosed with MS, thanked guests for coming to the reimagined event, which was dedicated to the memory of her son Jason, who died in February. He was 35.
“I’m so proud tonight to be able to honor my beautiful son Jason Davis, the most caring and deserving person, for the Medal of Hope award,” Davis said. “I know he’s here in spirit, sitting here on my shoulder, giving me the strength to get through this.”
After a touching tribute video for Jason, Davis and her daughters Isabella and Mariella Rickel accepted the posthumous honor.
“Jason, it truly has been a roller coaster these last six months, but I will continue to look up to you. And now I will not only continue to fight for our mom and everyone with MS, but I will do it for you, just like you had for the last 27 years,” Mariella Rickel said.
“When I think of Jason and who he was, his complete mission in life was to help others and always bring people up, not down.” Isabella Rickel added. “He left the biggest stamp on this world and there will never be another Jason Davis.”
During the event, Red Songbird founder and musician Hilary Roberts and Jason Wahler (“The Hills”) also announced the Jason Davis Scholarship, intended to help an individual struggling with mental health or addiction, while battling multiple sclerosis.
“Jason Davis was a dear friend of mine,” Wahler said. “I will forever miss him and the light that he brought to this world. He had so many admirable traits but one I saw closely was his abundance of love. He loved his family more than anything and he loved to help people.”
For the evening’s entertainment, Tommy Hilfiger unveiled a virtual presentation of his new Fall 2020 Adaptive Collection — a line of clothing specialized for people with disabilities. Then presenters Marg Helgenberger, Derek Hough and Cleveland Cavaliers star Jordan Bell introduced performances by Andy Grammer, Eric Benét, Siedah Garrett and Matthew. For the finale, the Davis family joined the musicians onstage for a singalong rendition of “Lean On Me,” which has been a tradition at the event since its inception 27 years ago.
The event ultimately raised over $1.4 million to benefit the Race to Erase MS and its Center Without Walls program, a collaboration of top multiple sclerosis research centers working towards finding a cure for MS.
Additional guests included Brandee Evans, Brenda Banda, Caroline D’Amore, Cassie Scerbo, Christine Devine, Dave Winfield, Diana-Maria Riva, Elle Lorraine, Francesca Capaldi, Gerald Isaac Waters, Katelyn Ohashi, Katie Welch, Keltie Knight, Logan Shroyer, Maximilian Acevedo, Olivia Sanabia, Pia Toscano, Victoria Justice and Xochitl Gomez.