Capable Mary Ourisman outdid herself as general chairman of a
three-pronged marathon event, (morning-to-night) that was one of the
most historic and prestigious held here in several years.
The Blair House Restoration Fund Gala began with an excellent luncheon
at Blair House, and continued with a White House reception hosted by
President and Mrs. Bush, after which guests were bussed directly to the State
Department for dinner. The art-and antique-filled Diplomatic Reception
Rooms looked more stunning than ever for the beautifully appointed dinner.
Blair House,one of the treasures of Washington, is not open to public tours.
“The President’s Guest House” serves as a home away from home for visiting
chiefs of state and other VIP guests; thevice president and cabinet secretaries
entertain foreign leaders there.
It was redecorated fittingly and handsomely fourteen years ago with the late
famed interior designer Mark Hampton leading the work in collaboration with
Mario Buatta (one of Buatta’s rooms is the exquisite Lee drawing room, a
masterpiece of subtle-hued chinoiserie.)
History has been made there from before the Civil War to the present era.
President Harry S. Truman lived in the house while the White House was
renovated, the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine were drafted in the Lee Dining
room, and the assassination attempt on President Truman’s life was made in
front of the building.
The 110 -room complex is the result of the joining together of the Blair and
the Lee mansions and two adjoining dwellings. Under the care of the federal
government, private funding by individuals, corporations and foundations has
greatly aided Blair House to become a magnificently furnished showplace. To
acknowledge and augment these donations was the purpose of the gala, which
was underwritten by former state department official Richard W. Fisher and his
Supporters came from many states as well as overseas: Eric Hagen and Chris
Sveesa, two wealthy Norwegian businessmen, arrived from Oslo especially
to attend the linked events at Richard Fisher’s invitation. Seen: Catherine B.
Reynolds, who through her foundation was one of the $500,000 endowment
donors, along with Roger and Victoria Sant, the Annenberg Foundation, and
Celebrants included several members of the Blair House Board Restoration
Fund Board of Trustees, under the leadership of Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt
(dubbed the “First Lady” of Blair House).
Seen: Protocol chief Donald B. Ensenat, who welcomed guests to the
luncheon, the Joseph Allbrittons, the Arnaud de Borchgraves, Britty Cudlip
with John Damgard, Nina Pillsbury, Lolo Sarnoff, Marc and Jacqueline
Leland, Gay Gaines, the Lloyd Hands, Mary Weinmann, Ruth Buchanan
Wheeler, Garnett Stackelberg, C. D. Ward, Kevin Chaffee, Spottiswood
and Blair Dudley, Ann and Henry Dudley, former chief of protocol Joseph
Verner Reed, and down from Boston, Muffie Brandon Cabot, who served as
social secretary under the Reagans.
At the State Department, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife Alma
greeted the guests, as did gala chairman Mary Ourisman (resplendent in a dream
of a black dress) and husband Mandy. As usual, Powell’s witty welcoming address
added to the warmth of the evening.
It was a fun party for a cause, especially since several interior systems in
Blair House need repair work. At the dinner, Senator Bill Frist, there with
his wife Karen, sat at Mary Ourisman’s right. At her left was Mario Buatta, in
from New York. All who knew him there and anyone knowing him from
his stint here, can attest that he is one of the most unpredictable jokers of all
time. More than once during the day’s festivities, a small switch of dark hair
jumped from his pocket to appear either as a sudden sprouting of curly locks on
his dome, or a rather horrendous goatee. And then there was that Buatta spoon
with the three-foot long handle that suddenly made its foraging appearance
in one’s plate …
A L A RUSSE: Mariana and Brandon Grove, Jr. hosted a remarkable party
to launch “A Year of Russian Feasts,” a unique
cookbook by Brandon’s daughter Catherine Cheremeteff Jones. The book is many
things: a colorful travel memoir, a bravely careful cookbook that
simplifies complex recipes (and eschews the banal ones,) and a
treasure trove of lore gleaned during a three-year Moscow sojourn and from her Russian
mother and grandmother.
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, was one of the guests
at a “Smiling Pizza” backyard party at Argentine
Ambassador Diego Ramiro Guelar’s Dupont Circle
mansion in late September. The ambassador is trying
to help the Duchess avoid foreclosure on the farm left
to her by her late mother Susan Barrantes and stepfather Hector Barrantes.
Photo by Roxana Bravo
Walking in the door to the party, one might have asked oneself why the setting was
so perfect? The answer: good dark wood and the rich reds of the decor —of course, even the
name “Maxim’s” gave a clue. It echoed famed “Maxims” in Paris, beloved haunt of the
Russian nobility who quaffed champagne there (traditionally
a sweeter version to correspond to Russian tastes), and of the fictional
Prince Danilo of “Merry Widow” fame.
Maxim’s is the creation of a remarkable woman, Alexandra Costa, on the
site of the famed old restaurant, “Maison Blanche.” Her story is as dramatic as any
work of fiction. Over twenty years ago, when she was married to the
first secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, she fled with her two small
children, becoming the first woman to defect from that embassy. What happened next
is fascinating, but to know more, read her book “Stepping
Down From the Star”, which won praise from both former CIA Director Richard
Helms and from author Tom Clancy.
Mariana, no wicked stepmother, went all out to arrange the book launch.
Around the big tables laden with zakuski, sampling the appetizers with vodka from
the restaurant’s 118 varieties, was gathered one of the most
cosmopolitan crowds in town. Seen: Svetlana Ushakova,
wife of the ambassador of the Russian Federation, Julio Heurtematte,
Vladimir Tolstoy, Aniko Gaal Schott, the Walter and Didi Cutlers, Pam
and Mike Peabody, Paul (the former Florida congressman) and Becky
Rogers, Willee and Finley Lewis, Ann and William Nitze, Alexandra and
Natasha Potemkin, author Catherine’s husband, Paul Jones,and her brother
Paul Grove with his wife Martha, and Lucy and Kempton Jenkins.
The Washington Redskins launched the Redskins Youth Development
Program at Anacostia
High School in Washington, D.C. in late September. A collaboration with the National Football
Foundation’s “Play it Smart” program, the program’s goals will center on placing academic
coaches in designated schools to work closely with student-athletes on an academic
gameplan, and to renovate and upgrade football fields at 10 local high schools in Washington,
D.C. and Prince George’s County, Maryland. Pictured: D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and
Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
Also there were Jane and Jonathan Sloat, Nina Straight, Steve Strickland,
Marta and Martin Dunetz, and James Symington (who has done so much for
cementing U.S. Russian relations). One guest who had called to say she could
not make it was Sandra Day O’Connor, and another guest knew the exact reason
why. Jan Sheppard had just returned from seeing the Supreme Court justice
in her native state, Arizona, where she had injured her leg.
They had gathered for a dedication at the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal
Court House in Phoenix. Her just- installed statue that stands before it
bears a secret on its judicial robe, the signatures of Sandra’s grandchildren,
set in bronze.
The sculpture is of a nine foot tall Sandra Day O’Connor, and given the
power of her intellect, and the height of her accomplishment, it is fitting that her
statue is larger than life-size.
OLE! Screen beauty Sandra Bullock made a stunning and genial honoree
at the black-tie Noche de Gala of the National Hispanic Foundation for the
Arts at the Mayflower Hotel.
The star seemed a little puzzled at winning the 2002 Raul Julia Award for
Excellence, “After all, I’m of German descent, not a Latina,” but Foundation
directors knew they had the right woman. On the other side of the camera
this time, Sandra is helping them meet their aim of expanding career openings
for Hispanic talent in media and entertainment fields in her real life role as the
executive producer of ABC’s hit sitcom “The George Lopez Show.” The show’s
star George Lopez, who in real life is a well-known stand up comedian, is also
an endearing actor with a lot of quiet charm, and the first Hispanic since
Freddie Prinz to find success in such a show.
Spearheading the evening were actors Jimmy Smits and Esai Morales
(familiar faces from television’s “NYPD Blue”) who were founders of the group along
with Sonia Braga (so memorable in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”) The latter
joined them onstage at the last minute, making a heroic effort to get here from
Brazil where she was working.
Soledad O’Brien of NBC News and Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News were
on hand, and singers Daphne Rubin-Vega (Tony-nominated from the
Broadway Production of “Rent”) and Daniel Rodriguez (a former NYPD
officer) entertained the crowd.
Seen (and in some cases, heard): HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, Senate
Majority Leader Tom Daschle,(so witty he could do stand-up himself,) Peace
Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and
Senator John Kerry.
The night before the gala, Esther Coopersmith gave a dinner for 120 at
her Kalorama home to honor the celebrities. Two guests, Nora Boustany,
international political columnist of the Washington Post, and Rima Al-Sabah,
wife of the ambassador of Kuwait, reminisced over their days as political
correspondents during the war in Lebanon when they had offices across the hall
from each other, Nora, for the Post, and Rima, for UPI. Both said they ducked
under their desks whenever the bombs were too close for comfort.
Lebanese-born Rima received her degree in journalism from the University of Beirut.
“When I was just a freshman, my husband was a senior, and we became
the “sweethearts of the campus,” said Rima.
A few nights later, the Al-Sabahs sponsored a film evening, but a very
sobering one. “Dreams Without Sleep,” from Kuwaiti filmmaker Walid Al-Awadi,
came about while he was traveling last year between Los Angeles, D.C. and
New York to work on a feature film and found himself on September 11th near the World Trade
Center with a camera.
True to his profession, he kept rolling as events unfolded all about him. (The
newspapers later recorded suspiciously that “an unidentif ied Muslim
photographer” was taking pictures during the calamity).
Al-Wadi filmed for seven days and nights, “focusing on the people in the
street,” recording their reactions as they watched for a loved one to come out of
a building alive. He says that during the Gulf War he “saw firsthand waste, death
and destruction. I never thought I would see another scene like that …until that
day in September.”
Esther Coopersmith hosted a dinner for 180 guests in the garden of her Kalorama home
on October 6 to welcome Queen Sirikit of Thailand, an old friend, back to Washington.
From left: Esther Coopersmith with Queen Sirikit of Thailand; Princess Ubol Ratana
The screening at the Museum of Natural History became even more
poignant when the audience realized that sitting among them were some of the
heros of the cinema verité film, such as Dan Walker, the young fireman who
pointed out that fate, and chance, ruled at each moment: “There are a lot of
stories about two guys standing together, one went left, one went right. One guy’s
still here, the other guy’s not.”
The movie is a striking testimony to the acts of self less courage and loyalty
that the people of New York –just average people —showed one another in the
midst of disaster.
While admitting that as an Arab and Muslim he was afraid of being
misunderstood as he filmed on Manhattan’s streets, Al-Wadi kept on,
saying that he cared “only that this story was told, that
it needed to be given to the world.”
Ambassador Ishaq Shahryar presided over festivities at a reception at the Afghan
Embassy, its first since reopening in July of this year, to celebrate Afghanistan’s
Indepndence Day. The event, which officially marks Afghan independence from Great
Britain in 1919, now has added cause for celebration. A number of guests wore traditional
Afghan clothes and performed the Atan, a traditional Afghan dance.
Above: Guests in traditional Afghan attire. Below from Below: Dr. Abdullah, Minister
of Foreign Affairs for the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, Amin Arsala, Vice
President for the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld, Ibrahim Lutfi, and Afghan Ambassador Ishaq Shahryar.
One audience member, Betty Ann Tanner, was congratulating Faika
Atallah, the wife of the ambassador of Tunisia, who that same morning had just
opened another door to deeper understanding of the
Arab world when she gave a dynamic “tour” of Tunisia and its people to members of
the International Neighbors Club #1, hosted at her country’s embassy. Mrs. Tanner,
the wife of Tennessee Rep. John S.Tanner, was aboutto head off to their home
state to campaign for her husband.
It is not often that two ambassadors marry, but in the case of Penne Korth
(who was our ambassador to Mauritius for three years) and Andrew Peacock
(the former Australian ambassador to the U.S.), wedding bells were ringing on
a recent Saturday.
After the reception many guests went on to the Historic Georgetown Club to
help tawny-locked glamour girl Tandy Dickerson celebrate her birthday. (“A
sensational party” said Mary Ourisman, and who should know better?)
School Night ’02 on October 3 raised nearly $3 million to aid area youth in
receiving an outstanding education. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Fight For
Children Chairman Joseph E. Robert, Jr., and Sallie Mae Vice Chairman and CEO
Albert Lord were joined by local and national business leaders for the fundraising
gala. Since its inception in 1998, the charity has raised $15 million to provide
access to better educational opportunities for D.C. students through the funding of
programs that support children —from preschool through high school to college.
From left: Albert L. Lord, Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Fight For Children
chairman Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Photos by Tina Williams
The mix of Georgetowners, out-of-towners and ambassadors who gathered
included her first cousin Langhorne Hutter Meem II. Tandy’s maiden name
was Meem and both are distantly related to the legendary Virginia-born Nancy
Langhorne, who went on to become the fiery Lady Astor. When her husband
inherited the title of Lord Astor, he had to give up membership in the British House
of Commons, and move to the House of Lords. Nancy ran for his vacant seat and
won, becoming the first woman ever to be a member of the British Parliament
(and American-born, at that).
Outspoken and fiercely independent, one of Lady Astor's most quoted remarks
had her saying that she didn't pass judgement on the actions of others "as long
as they don't startle the horses in the streets."