'Motel 6 guy' headlines hospital foundation gala

Tom Bodett will be the speaker at the annual fundraiser Nov. 14.

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Tom Bodett would like people to understand he performs fire dances and swallows a sword or two.

Bodett is a panelist on National Public Radio's "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me," regular contributor to "All Things Considered," voice-over artist, author and -- it has to be said -- the voice behind Motel 6's famous tag line, "We'll leave the light on for you."

He is also the featured speaker at Walla Walla General Hospital Foundation's 2009 Gala at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center on Nov. 14.

Tickets, $80 per person, are on sale until Wednesday. Call 527-8303 or visit the office at 115 W. Main St., in the Bank of America building.

Bodett, now residing in Vermont, came to fame while living in Alaska and working as a house builder. A quirky story about quitting smoking was published by an Anchorage newspaper and the humorist was on his way.

He creates and works in the same sort of genre as Garrison Keilor of NPR's "Prairie Home Companion." But he's perhaps best known for the motel chain gig, Bodett said by phone from his home state.

"When people think they are just going to hear the Motel 6 guy, they don't expect much, so it's easy."

He's never quite sure why organizations -- especially a hospital foundation -- invite him to speak. The closest he's come to professional health care is a stint as a hospital kitchen employee as a kid, he said.

"Certainly they didn't invite me to hear my thoughts on health-care reform. I have none anyway. I do have an in-law who's a doctor and I asked him about the system and he said 'What health care system?' I like that."

Bodett lived on the west side of Washington for six years, but has only been as far east in the state as Spokane. He's looking forward to seeing Walla Walla, which he hears good things about, he said. "I don't drink wine, but my wife does, so I've become a connoisseur of label art."

As for the fire dances and sword swallowing, not so much, Bodett conceded. It's a ploy to get folks to buy tickets in advance -- "by the time they find out I don't, it's too late."

Doors to the 2009 Gala open at 5:30 p.m., the event begins in earnest at 6:30 p.m. Dinner entrees feature salmon, vegetarian lasagna and chicken. Several event packages will be up for live auction, including a weekend at Eagle Crest Resort, a gold weekend in Central Washington, a four-course cooking class and meal from Someone's in the Kitchen and a ship voyage to Victoria, BC.

All proceeds support the surgical and critical care units.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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