Robert Downey Jr. and the Robert Graham Visionary Award

On Sunday I had the privilege of attending the Yo San University’s annual fundraising event, the Robert Graham Visionary Award presentation hosted at the gorgeous Malibu home of local philanthropist Lilly Tartikoff. This year the recipient of the award was Chinese Medicine enthusiast Robert Downey Jr. The emcee for the event was Brenda Strong, an actress who was on Desperate Housewives, and is currently in the new Dallas series.

Yo San University cofounders Dr. Dao and Dr. Mao with Robert Downey Jr.

It was pouring rain for most of the day, but still the guests arrived in droves. I worked at the event as a student volunteer, but I was still able to talk with a lot of the guests, and everyone I spoke to was a strong supporter of Yo San, of founders Dr. Mao and Dr. Dao, and of Chinese Medicine in general. I sold raffle tickets, and although I thought it would be hard work, it turned out to be an easy gig because everyone there wanted to support Yo San’s mission of bringing affordable acupuncture treatments to the community.

From his onscreen persona, you might assume that Robert is charming and witty with a great sense of humor, and that is exactly how he was. He joked with everyone good-naturedly and was quick to pipe up with quips during the presentation.

Here is an excerpt from his acceptance speech, which was funny and punctuated with much laughter by the attendees. It was great to hear how he has integrated a lot of Chinese health traditions into his life, and how it has made a difference for him.

“[When they called to tell me about the award] I thought about it and I said, well wow, ‘Do I really qualify for this?’ and it only took a second for me to say ‘Robert, you deserve this as much as anyone.’ I confess, that I am as close to being a Chinese-American as any Caucasian ever could be in his life. I awoke to my Qi Gong practice this morning, Guarding the Eight Treasures, I did some Mook Jong wooden dummy drills in preparation for my black belt grading at the LA Wing Chung Kung Fu Academy, and I then took my, get ready, my herbal formula, and then ate a seasonally appropriate meal. And all before 1:30 PM. But the truth be told that every discipline that I have employed that has its roots in the Chinese tradition has worked, and that’s what I’m really drawn to, it’s the way is the way is the way, and when things work, they are really worth putting your time and energy behind. And it’s contributed to making me a more tolerable father, and son, husband, co-worker, and according to the title of this award, visionary. (Where do I think I get off when I’m writing this stuff? And when I discover exactly what my vision is I’ll make sure I post it on the Yon San University website.)

This is my favorite line I wrote so far: Happily my wife Susan Downey couldn’t attend this evening. And that is because Dr. Mao’s conviction that we would conceive over Memorial day weekend of 2011 having followed a strict regimen of herbal formulas, acupuncture sessions, consultations, and other prescribed duties, for many months previous, she is home with our happy and healthy year of the dragon son Exton, perhaps a future 80th generation YSU graduate.”

After Robert was presented with the award, there was an auction of several unique items, some of which were Robert-movie-related. There was a pipe and an auction paddle which he used in Sherlock Holmes, and a racing suit with a helmet from Iron Man 2, among other items. Everything was bid on in good spirits, and in the end a lot of money was raised for Yo San.

Marka “Building Mama” posing with the Iron Man 2 suit that was up for auction.

Ellen holding the Sherlock Holmes pipe during the auction bidding.

Yo San student volunteers: (Clockwise) Vanessa, Cinthia, Phillip, Chloe, Adam, Ellen, Steve, Ally, Emily (me), and Tobe at the end of our shifts posing in front of the sponsor wall.


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