Can Fight Night be Fight Night without Joe Robert?
More than most of Washington’s signature events, the legendary booze-boxing-cigar fundraiser became almost synonymous with its founder, the flamboyant multimillionaire who launched it two decades ago. Robert died in December of brain cancer, just 59 years old, and many have wondered what’s next for his children’s charity, Fight for Children.
Which is how Raul Fernandez got sucked in. He was too busy to take on anything new, what with his businesses, causes and part ownership of the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. But then he went to Robert’s funeral, where the tributes “refocused my attention all the incredible work he did for children in the city — and the need to make sure that continues,” Fernandez told us Monday. “It stayed with a lot of people.”
So he agreed to yet another job: A two-year term as chairman of Fight for Children, the official beneficiary of Fight Night and its sister event, School Night. The board — including former mayors Adrian Fenty and Tony Williams, producer Quincy Jones, Children’s National Medical Center’s Kurt Newman, and Robert’s older son, Joe Robert III— voted in Fernandez last week and officially announced it Monday.
Fernandez is only the second chairman in the charity’s history. He met Robert met 15 years ago and the two bonded: Both were local kids, alums of St. John’s College High School and heads of multi-million dollar businesses.
Robert, who always dragged his friends into his charitable web, not only tapped Fernandez to chair Fight Night in 2002, but also sold him pricey ringside tables for a decade and recruited him to lobby lawmakers on voucher programs for D.C. students.
Now Fernandez, 45, is trying to fill Robert’s shoes as a relentless cheerleader, fundraiser and chief networker for the cause. “There’s a void, but our challenge is to channel that energy,” he said. “My goal is to make sure there is absolutely no hiccup, no stumbling. And raise more money.”
Which means, he promised, that the 2012 Fight Night on Nov. 1 will be the “biggest and best ever”: A tribute to Robert with all the former chairs of the past two decades making major gifts in his honor. And Fernandez is already planning for 2013. “The night has to have a great leader.” Nothing finalized yet — but he’s a “fabulous, next-generation” personality.
“Get you tickets early because it’s going to sell out fast,” he told us. “Yes, I’m channeling Joe.”