Hoda Kotb was honored as the American Cancer Society's Mother of the Year, and her TODAY co-host Kathie Lee Gifford gave a speech that moved many in the crowd to tears.
“The only thing bigger than her smile is her heart,” Kathie Lee Gifford told the audience at a luncheon at the St. Regis hotel in New York Monday.
“You have to be very careful around Hoda because she’s the most contagious human being on the planet. She will infect you. She will make you happy,” Kathie Lee added. “She will make you start singing really crappy songs. That’s what she does. She can’t help it. She just shows up and the room changes.”
Kathie Lee said the first time she met Hoda was at a lunch nearly a decade ago when NBC brass tried convincing her to return to television. She knew immediately she had discovered a lifelong friend.
"I fell absolutely, madly in love with this life force called Hoda, who just made me a better person," she said.
Kathie Lee said her only regret was that the two didn’t meet earlier. She would have liked to have been there to support Hoda when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Hoda shared her American Cancer Society honor with Susan K. Boolbol, a breast cancer surgeon at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
Hoda became a mother earlier this year when she adopted a daughter, Haley Joy, on Valentine's Day.
She acknowledged feeling a bit self-conscious for being honored as Mother of the Year when, “I’ve only really been a mother for eight months.”
But she admitted she's wanted to be one for a lot longer.
“All my life I’ve wanted to be a mom, but I thought it would happen later," she explained.
Hoda got married and divorced, and she moved around the country for work. Then came her cancer diagnosis, and her hopes of having children started to shrink.
“I thought that that had passed me by, just because that’s the way life is — you don’t get everything. And I was okay with it. I totally made peace with it," she said.
But then she started seeing "signs" that maybe she wasn't quite ready to accept a life without children.
"Those feelings of wanting to be a mom just kept surfacing," she said.
She described how she'd feel "an ouch" every time strangers asked if she had children, or how inspired she was after interviewing a couple who, in their 50s, adopted children from Haiti after visiting the island.
“I started to think one day, ‘Why not me? Why couldn’t I maybe do this, too?’” she said.
Hoda thanked her boyfriend of four years, Joel Schiffman, who already was a father to a grown daughter but who immediately lent his support without taking even a day to weigh it over.
“I said, 'I would like to explore adoption with you,' and he said, 'I don’t need a day,'” she recalled.
Hoda recalled the moment she first met Haley, when a woman handed her over and "she fit right here," she said, patting her bent left arm.
"And we all lived happily ever after!" she joked, before concluding with a story about a discussion she had right after becoming a mom.
"I said to my friend, ‘Can you believe I’m 52 and I have a baby?' And she said, 'Do you know what that baby is? That baby is right on time,'" she said.