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VIAAC Visionary Honors: A Tribute to Those Among Us With the Biggest Hearts

18 Sep, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

I spent much of last night up in Beverly Hills, reminding myself that underneath all the competition and one-upmanship, the home video industry does, after all, have a heart.

The occasion was the annual VIAAC Visionary Honors dinner, where our industry comes together not to sell product or cut deals, but to honor our own who have selflessly given to the cause.

VIAAC, of course, is the Video Industry AIDS Action Committee, a volunteer group of video industry professionals that was formed in 1989 to respond to the urgent need for funding for AIDS service organizations around the country.

In the ensuing years, VIAAC has delivered more than $2.8 million to 100-plus agencies in the battle to find a cure for AIDS and HIV — a battle whose biggest enemies, aside from the actual disease, is public indifference and, in some circles, intolerance stemming from a grossly misguided perception of what the disease is all about.

I'm proud to report that this year's honorees are all longtime friends of mine.

Jim Cardwell and Bob Chapek, presidents of Warner Home Video and Buena Vista Home Entertainment, are both seasoned pros who lead two of the most progressive and smart video operations around. They are dynamic and visionary leaders, and it comes as no surprise to me that they would also give as generously as they have to VIAAC. They're passionate and compassionate — two words with different meanings, but not for these two.

David Kahn has been a convention buddy of mine for nearly a decade, a leading Blockbuster franchisee who's never been afraid to have his own thoughts, his own expressions. Back home in Birmingham, Ala., he's a big philanthropist as well, serving as a board member of the local Red Cross chapter, United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham and other such groups. Here in our industry, he's been one of VIAAC's biggest retail supporters since the organization's “Penny For AIDS” days, in part because the disease has affected him personally: His first cousin has AIDS.

Steve Feldstein, the flamboyant voice of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, is one of the first people I ever met in home video. I'd never say so to his face, but I truly love the guy — because his heart is even bigger than his mouth. Steve is a founding member of VIAAC and has been one of the organization's biggest supporters, both in time and in raising funds. He's a true master of persuasion — just look how many times he and his executives are quoted in my stories, both in Video Store Magazine and in the consumer press — and has used that golden tongue to bring myriad talented and dedicated volunteers and donors into the organization.

Last, but certainly not least, is Kimbirly Orr, a close friend for eight years and a colleague for four. Kimbirly is group sales director for Advanstar Communications' Home Entertainment Events division, which with the VSDA puts on the annual VSDA convention and the East Coast Video Show. She works right down the hall from me — Video Store Magazine also is owned by Advanstar — and she's one of my best friends here at work.

When my kids sell Sally Foster, Kimbirly is always the first person to buy, and she also places the biggest order. Now, I know this isn't just because Kimbirly loves wrapping paper or candy; it's because my kids go to private school and, well, Kimbirly can't help but give to those who need it the most. She can't help herself; it's in her nature.

If people were colors, Kimbirly certainly wouldn't be a pastel. She's bright, vivid and bold — a deep purple, say, which not surprisingly happens to be her favorite color.

A tireless worker, Kimbirly doesn't just live in the fast lane, she is the fast lane. It's hard to imagine she finds time for charitable work, but she does. She freely commits time and energy to such noble causes as fundraising for cancer research, granting wishes to terminally ill children and, of course, VIAAC, an organization with which she's been actively and aggressively involved with for the past eight years, most recently as vice president.

In putting together the program for last night's event, Kimbirly provided me with a most telling quote that really sums up who she is, what she's all about, and just how big her heart really is.

“When I joined the home entertainment industry in 1995, I realized I had more friends who were being affected by this disease,” she told me. “It was important for me to get involved in an industry charity, but also something that was near and dear to my heart. This organization's reach extends beyond the bounds of entertainment, benefiting organizations around the county and people living with HIV or AIDS. The research spawned from VIAAC contributions to organizations like the UCLA AIDS Institute is bringing us closer to a cure, although much more research and fundraising is required, as we're nowhere near our ultimate goal of having no need for VIAAC's existence.”

Well put, my purple princess. On behalf of all our fellow workers at Advanstar — Don, Liz, Janet, January, Jennifer, the two Kurts, Stephanie, Jessica, Holly, Judith, Melinda, Meryl, Brendan, Erik, Enrique, Dave, Barbara, Kim, Renee, Susan, Julie, Jeff, Denis, Claudia, Debbie and the rest — we salute you!

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