CLEVELAND -- The chance to raise money for cancer research and awareness came with a catch – Wilma Smith would be subjected to an evening of jokes and anecdotes, all at her expense.
That night was April 24, 1992, when local dignitaries and Wilma’s friends and family members roasted her.
The annual event, known as the ‘Grand Illusions Sauté,’ benefits Ohio Cancer Research Associates, a non-profit established in 1982 dedicated to the cure and prevention of cancer through basic research in Ohio.
Wilma had been involved with the organization for years and served as emcee for its various functions.
“She’s such a beautiful person and so attractive as well,” Cleveland City Councilwoman Mary Rose Oakar said at the roast. “We women have very strong feelings about you, Wilma. Jealousy!”
Every jab stemmed from a compliment or was a nod to a fond memory. The speakers also followed their dose of humor with genuine kindness and praise for Wilma.
“What this brief look at off-the-camera Wilma indicates is that when combined with her on-camera work and her community commitments, Wilma is proving that Linus of the comic strip ‘Peanuts’ was right when he said, ‘Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we have never used.’ Wilma, Cleveland is glad you are using all 10 speeds,” said Karen Horn of Bank One.
The most touching moment of the night was when Wilma’s mother went on stage with an unplanned, yet heartfelt message.
"I just want to say to my daughter, I love you. I'm very proud of you and so is dad. God bless you and take you very successful in your life. Thank you, Wilma," said Mary Pokorny.
There was also a surprise message from fitness guru Richard Simmons.
“Dear, sweet, Wilma,” Oakar read on Simmons’ behalf. “I’m so sorry that I cannot be with you in this, your special night. For over a decade now I have loved and respected you. I have even asked you to marry me on several occasions. It’s been hard to live with your rejections but I have survived. You’re one of the most beautiful ladies I’ve ever met, inside and out, and you will always remain nestled somewhere in my heart.”
After the all of the jokes and laughter, Wilma accepted the 1992 Grand Illusions Award and had her own chance at the microphone.
Watch the video above for a sample of the night and to see how Wilma responded to the good-natured teasing.