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Dalai Lama to honor 3 people from county
Marin Independent Journal[Monday, November 07, 2005 10:40]
Jim Staats

Three people with Marin ties are among a group to be honored by the Dalai Lama today at a San Francisco luncheon.

Dr. Grace Dammann of the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, LucasArts software engineer Eric Johnston and 11-year-old leukemia patient Ben Duskin are among the 48 honorees from 14 countries who will be blessed at the event titled "Unsung Heroes of Compassion 2005."

"The meaning of this event is to inspire, not so much to give these people an award, but have them there as representatives of the countless people who dedicate a portion of their efforts for the under-served," said Dick Grace, board chairman of the St. Helena nonprofit organization hosting the program, Wisdom in Action.

Grace said he and his wife, who travel to remote parts of the world three to four months a year, have collected names of special individuals over the last several years.

Those names were narrowed to the final 50 invitees by a three-person selection committee of Wisdom in Action board members.

Dammann, 58, a resident of the Green Gulch center near Muir Beach, has specialized in HIV and geriatric care for several years. In 1990, she helped open the step-down unit at Laguna Honda Hospital for San Francisco AIDS patients requiring ongoing care without family support.

Damman helped found the Tom Steel Clinic in Mill Valley in 2000. She estimated the clinic, which evolved out of a private practice, provides medical care to more than a third of the AIDS-infected people in Marin.

She said she is thrilled to meet the Dalai Lama but didn't view her honor as an individual achievement.

"I realized it's just for all of us, we all have heroic moments in our life," she said.

Johnston, 35, of San Francisco was designing computer games for LucasArts in San Rafael in 2003 when he learned about Ben Duskin, then living in Greenbrae, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The two began work to help facilitate Ben's wish to create a game other children with cancer could play to take their minds off chemotherapy.

Six months later, the game was released as a free download by Make-A-Wish. To date, "Ben's Game" has been downloaded more than 200,000 times.

Ben, whose family moved to Houston last year for his father's job relocation, said he receives e-mails from kids all over the world and is looking forward to "just having fun" at the event.

Johnston described the honor as completely unexpected.

"When Ben's mom called, I thought I heard her incorrectly. As somebody who has touched so many people's lives, just to meet him is a great deal," he said.

The event's genesis was a conversation in 2000 between Grace and the exiled Tibetan leader in a Pasadena hotel room.

"I said often when he comes to America, he's seen with political and socially affluent people, but that's not really him," Grace said.

"That resonated with him, and from that we came up with this vision to select 50 people worldwide, half men and half women, of all religious affiliations, who are by most descriptions ordinary people yet dedicate their energy and talents to help the needs of others."

Grace will share hosting duties today at the Ritz Carlton Hotel with others including Marin actor Peter Coyote.

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