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Originally published August 11, 2014 at 8:58 PM | Page modified August 11, 2014 at 9:02 PM

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A spate of accolades as Jenkins departs Seattle Opera

After 31 years, Speight Jenkins is honored as he departs Seattle Opera; Brooks honors inspiring running coaches from around the country; and the Obliteride returns with its annual effort to roll over cancer.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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All night, the accolades and the Champagne flowed. But so did the tears, as the Seattle Opera community said goodbye to Speight Jenkins after his 31 years as general director.

Bruce McCaw remembered the first time he met Jenkins. His late mother, Marion Oliver McCaw — for whom Seattle’s opera house is named — introduced them not long after Jenkins had been hired.

“I thought, ‘What does a Texan know about opera?’ ” McCaw remembered, then cracked a quiet smile. “I wish she was here tonight.”

The night’s program was a two-part feast of arias and duets performed by singers who flew in from around the world to honor the man who changed their careers.

“He’s responsible for me starting into the Wagner repertoire,” said Greer Grimsley, who closed the evening’s program with a moving performance of “Wotan’s Farewell” from “Die Walküre.” (“I choked up a little,” Grimsley said later.)

After Antonello Palombi performed “O, tu che in seno agli angeli” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino,” you could hear sniffling all over the hall.

All the while, Jenkins sat in the 14th row, legs crossed, a hand over his mouth. At the end, he stood onstage with the singers, who applauded, stomped their feet and wiped away tears.

“This is the greatest night of my life at this point,” he said.

Attendees poured out of the hall, stopping for cocktails in the lobby before being directed into a tent for dinner.

“Rather a short, light evening, wasn’t it?” joked Clifton Forbis, who sang the Act I finale from “Die Walküre” with Christiane Libor. “Speight instills in his singers a sense of loyalty. It’s like you don’t want to disappoint your dad.”

Allwyn Mellor flew in from the England, “For Speight,” she said. “He brought me to ‘The Ring’ last year and I owe him a lot of songs.”

Joyce Castle served as the master of ceremonies. She just got back from São Paulo, Brazil, where she reprised her Grammy Award-winning role as the Old Lady in “Candide.” (“They loved it,” she said.)

Marc Scorca, president of the National Opera Center of America, flew in from New York “because Speight is an opera optimist without parallel.”

Jenkins’ daughter, Linle Froeb, came from San Francisco. Her exposure to opera was “endless,” she said, and a gift.

Tom Allen, a vice president on the opera board, has been attending for 25 years. Surely he had some Speight stories?

“I don’t want to put it in print,” he said. “He knows when they sang it, where they sang it and where they are buried. It was a gift to have him.”

For this crowd, and for Jenkins, there was no saying goodbye. Rather, people raised their glasses and repeated the battle cry from “Die Walküre”: “Hojotoho!”

Legging it

What makes a runner?

It seemed the question to ask at the Brooks Running Most Inspiring Coaches Awards, held last Tuesday at the EMP Museum.

“It’s a kid who listens, pays attention and believes in what you’re telling them so they can believe in themselves,” said Kwajalein Griffin, a track-and-field coach at Garfield High School, where Nicole Pettywas a 2013 finalist for the Brooks award.

The awards were started in 2011 by Brooks CEO Jim Weber, who believes that high-school track-and-field teams don’t get the recognition or support they deserve.

“The football team eats first,” Weber said. “We want to put our weight down to get kids running.”

The company received 1,500 nominations and 45,000 online votes before flying 25 finalists to Seattle. Each received $5,000 in Brooks running gear, $500 for team expenses and a bronzed Brooks spike.

One coach did his job from a wheelchair; he had been paralyzed in a car accident. Three had battled cancer.

But there could only be one winner: Renee Williams-Smith of Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, Calif. An alumnus who, back in the day, stitched her own uniform to run with the boys there, she now coaches a team of girls who FaceTimed her after her win.

So what makes a runner?

“Heart and effort and desire,” she said. “It’s not winning a race, it’s getting out there and doing it.”

Riding against cancer

Lynette Klein walked over to the “I ride for ...” wall at the Obliteride kickoff party at Gas Works Park on Friday evening and picked up a piece of chalk.

Mom,” she wrote, then paused. “Lew Ellen, Jim, Colton, Gabrielle.”

Klein stepped back and I stepped up beside her.

“My mom, my sister, my brother-in-law,” she explained. “The first three died. Colton was 2 when he was diagnosed. And Gabrielle is fighting ovarian cancer. Stage four.”

Klein, who works in planned giving at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, would bike 25 miles of last weekend’s fundraiser for the Hutch in their honor with her sister, LaVonne Ector, beside her.

Some 900 riders would raise $1.5 million — and counting.

Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal, a member of the Hutch board, stood with two cups of wine in his hand, praising the place.

“Sometimes I wonder if the city of Seattle understand the treasure they have here at the Hutch,” he said. “They’re improving the lives of millions of people.”

His Sinegal Foundation may have been one of the event’s big sponsors, “But I’m just a cameo.”

He walked over to his friend, Hutch President Dr. Lawrence Corey, and handed him one of the cups. (“Ah, my friend,” Corey said.)

In the VIP area, people lined up to hug musician Michael Franti, back for a second year. At the grills, chefs Tom Douglas, Eric Tanaka and Kerri Eckels.

Lorri Grassi, a Tacoma lobbyist, is a three-time cancer survivor and “Obliteride junkie. I’m orange inside.”

She would tape 28 names — the people she lost to cancer — to the bars of her bike to keep her going.

“They didn’t make it,” she said. “I can ride a hill.”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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