Save the Children Honors Bob Iger Amid Oprah Winfrey's Presidential Prodding

Oprah and Bob Iger from Save the Children -Getty - H 2019
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"There is not a human being on the planet Earth that I hold in higher regard than Robert Iger. No one," Winfrey said of the Walt Disney Company CEO at the event that also honored Jennifer Garner.

"I'll tell you truth: This is not really where I intended to be tonight," said Oprah Winfrey at Save the Children's West Coast Centennial Celebration: Once in a Lifetime. "I was hoping that by this time, early fall, I'd be knocking on doors in Des Moines, wearing an 'Iger 2020' T-shirt."

"I really do believe that Bob Iger's guidance and decency is exactly what the country needs right now," the TV icon explained to the assembled crowd as she took the stage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to present Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, with the organization's Centennial Award. "There is not a human being on the planet Earth that I hold in higher regard than Robert Iger. No one."

"I'm reminded of something that Ronald Reagan said to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential debate: 'There you go again,'" joked Iger, who has in recent months steadfastly rebuffed any talk of entering the already crowded field of election contenders. "Please, I am not about to become the 25th or the 30th person seeking the presidency in 2020. But I certainly hope that whoever runs and whoever wins makes the safety and well-being of children their No. 1 priority."

Iger was honored for his and Disney's support of Save the Children, which was celebrating its 100th year of improving the lives of children in crisis and poverty, here and around the world. Winfrey lavished praise on the executive for the commitment he's demonstrated toward the welfare of children and the delight and optimism that he and the company had spread during troubled times.

"Kids have always been at the heart of Disney's philanthropic efforts, so what better organization actually for Bob to join forces with than one that shares Disney's values so perfectly?" said Winfrey. "Bob Iger has encouraged his company to use its unique assets, its beloved characters, and an ability to tell timeless stories to bring comfort to children and families going through some incredibly challenging circumstances. Children are the bond that brings Disney and Save the Children together, helping them to thrive in impossible situations, lifting them from disaster, giving them the support they need to reach their potential, and to actually have a real shot at the future that every young boy and girl deserves."

Winfrey recounted how, under Iger's leadership, "Disney employees take part in a variety of volunteer efforts that support Save the Children's mission, including Kids for Kids. It's a Disney-funded initiative in which Disney volunteers had filled tens and tens of thousands of backpacks with school supplies, personal care products, toys and books that are then distributed to children in need. And for sure those children will always remember that gesture and the fact that somebody in the world cared about them."

The starry crowd in attendance included Harrison Ford, Anthony Anderson, Ellen Pompeo, Derek Hough, Lake Bell, Karamo Brown, Suki Waterhouse, Baron Davis and Joe Mantegna.

Despite his protestations, Iger — who attended with his wife, broadcaster Willow Bay — summoned a presidential air in his acceptance speech.

"I think you'd expect, as the CEO of Disney, exhorting optimism is a real priority, but let's face it: The world around us is becoming increasingly hostile and more dangerous to children," he said. "Rampant gun violence, regional wars, terrorism, unchecked climate change, growing intolerance, economic instability and so many other threats, including ugly and important politics and shortsighted policies that are mortgaging the future of our world."

"I often believe that profound change is needed to ensure that every child has the support that they need to thrive and to rise and to become everything God meant them to be, regardless of background, regardless of ethnicity, geography or circumstance," Iger added. "We all know that far too many children live without the protection, the respect and the support that they deserve, and the mission of Save the Children is more critical than ever. But we also know they can't do it alone. We all have a responsibility to be part of the solution as both individuals and leaders and corporations with the reach and the resources to make a big difference."

Jennifer Garner, a longtime advocate and current trustee for Save the Children, emceed the ceremony. Her onstage opening remarks were briefly interrupted by Drew Carey, who presented her with an unexpected trophy in acknowledgement of her efforts on Save the Children's behalf. "More than any other celebrity you could name, she is the one, raising tens of millions of dollars for the organization," said Carey.

Visibly moved and blinking back tears, Garner mock-scolded: "Everyone at Save the Children is in so much trouble with me right now."

On the red carpet prior to the ceremony, Garner recounted how the cause had found its way into her heart. "I went looking for the organization that had the most efficacy in rural America," she told THR. "My mom grew up poor in Oklahoma. She was the first in her family to go to college without a leg up, and then my sisters and I. It wouldn't have been assumed that we would get to go to college and do all the crazy, fun things that we get to do. I grew up, then, in West Virginia, surrounded by generational rural poverty, and I was always very aware that I was on the lucky side."

Garner recalled that early on in her pursuit of philanthropic causes, she told her team, "'Whatever fundraising, whatever policy work, whatever you want me to do, I'll do, but you have to balance it with site visits,' because I have to have just met a family in order to talk about them, and I'm nothing without stories, because I'm not an expert. … So I've gotten to go on site visits across the country over and over and over again, and it's the most valuable education I ever could've had. We live in the most extraordinary country."

Stylist Rachel Zoe is another steadfast supporter of Save the Children. "I love how unpretentious they are. I love how much they stay true to their mission," she told THR. "They do it and they don't ask for pats on the back for it. They just do it. They care. They work really hard. Over a billion kids, over the last hundred years – that's insane! They affect so many different parts of the world and so many different needs of children around the world. I think that's pretty incredible."

Zoe even provided her styling services to the beneficiary children who appeared throughout the evening to share their stories with the attendees. "They had so much fun," she said. "There's this one girl, Aya – she's 8 years old, which is exactly my son's age. She just comes in and I was like, 'I'm just going to call you Gigglepuss,' because she couldn't stop laughing. She tried on five different dresses. She's such a cutie pie. … When you're actually with the kids and you see the impact that the work has, that's the game changer for me."

The evening also included a set of hits by the legendary singer James Taylor, including "Fire and Rain," "How Sweet It Is" and "You've Got a Friend," as well as performances by Amani Children's Choir from Uganda and the Mid-Cities Youth Choir (both of whom joined Taylor in singing the closing song). There was also a personal reminiscence by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck about his experience with Save the Children during his impoverished youth in Austria, and a remembrance of the late journalist and passionate Save the Children advocate Cokie Roberts.

"Save the Children over our 100 years has reached about a billion children across the world. We work in about 120 countries and right here in our country," the charity's CEO, Carolyn Miles, told THR. "We are the McDonald's, I guess, of helping kids, but we still do it one child at a time."