PEOPLE has always been proud to feature stories about ordinary citizens right alongside those about the royal, the rich and the famous. At the ceremony for the second annual PEOPLEfirst Honors on Dec. 5 at the New York Public Library, we paid tribute to those citizens, and for a change it was the celebrities on hand—Michael J. Fox, Serena Williams, Sean Astin, cast members of Third Watch, CNN's Daryn Kagan, model Frederique—who were star staruck.
The honorees' selflessness has already been chronicled in PEOPLE'S pages. "They represent the hero in all of us," says publisher Kathy Kayse. "Each of them is a walking, talking celebration of the human spirit." Peter Waxman, brand director of Dove, sponsor of the event, agrees: "These heroes epitomize the true meaning of inner strength and beauty. Their acts of caring inspire us all."
This year's awardees:
•Leslie Hawke (actor Ethan's mom), who started a chapter of the Manhattan-based Ready, Willing & Able charity in Romania to help child beggars get off the streets by providing training and jobs for their mothers.
•Bob and Gay Smither of Friendswood, Texas, who, after the 1997 kidnap-murder of their daughter, founded the Laura Recovery Center Foundation to aid families of missing persons.
•Retired Marine and cancer survivor Larry Hicks, who dived into a lake near Troy, Ala., to rescue a man whose plane had crashed.
•Jacques d'Amboise, a former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, who founded a
program to teach dance to underprivileged kids.
•Julia Mae Burney, a former police officer who created the Cops 'n Kids Reading Center for inner-city children in Racine, Wis.
•Mattie Stepanek, a 12-year-old who suffers from the life-threatening disease dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, yet has published four bestselling volumes of poetry.
•The Dragon Slayers, seven teens who provide 24-hour emergency medical care in remote Alaskan villages.
Most of those honored do not see themselves as exceptional. Says Gay Smither: "We're a mother and father desperately trying to make things better for other families so they don't have to go through what we went through."
Declares Hicks: "I'm probably the only one in Alabama who doesn't understand what all the hype is about. What I did was just react."
Maybe so. But as Michael J. Fox, waging his own valiant battle against Parkinson's disease, said, it's how you react that counts. Heroism, he said, is simply "a willingness to stick your neck out and do the right thing." Ordinariness like that will always have a place in the pages of PEOPLE.
Peter Bauer, President
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