Around Town
with Donna Shor            

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.

Guests at The Blair House Gala, which included a luncheon at Blair House, a cocktail reception at the White House afterwards, and a dinner at the State Department’s Diplomatic Reception Suite, came from many states as well as overseas. The Blair House Restoration Fund was established in 1985 to raise funds from the private sector for the complete restoration of Blair House, the President’s official guesthouse.

Clockwise from above: Mary Ourisman & Secretary of State Colin Powell; Judge John Baily of Ireland, Alyne Massey (Blair House Restoration Fund Trustee), Senator Paul Laxalt and his wife Carol (Blair House Restoration Fund Trustee); Mac and Donna McLarty (Blair House Restoration Fund Trustee), and Richard Fisher. Photos by Karin Cooper

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 wife Nancy.

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 several corporations.

Fifty friends from Girls’ Night Out, a group of women professionals, descended on the chic new Georgetown boutique Mint Julep’s for the group’s first fall get together. The private shopping event on Sept. 24 featured manicures, makeovers, palm reading, and lots of good food and drinks, including Mint Juleps.

Clockwise from left: Mint Julep’s Owner Katie Poitevint and Meg Gregory; Nina Halper and Tuni Singh; Cynthia Dipaquale and Julia Kupfer; Ingrid Zimmer and Alis Clyburn. Photos by Lili Iravani

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.

Mariana and Brandon Grove hosted a party at Maxim Restaurant in Northwest on September 24 to celebrate the release of Catherine Jones’s book, “A Year of Russian Feasts.” In the book, Jones explains the regularly occurring Russian Orthodox feasts, those traditional dishes associated with them, and the holidays’ significance in the life of the church and people.

Clockwise from right: Mariana Grove, Donna Pflieger & Jane Sloat; James Symington and Svetlana Ushakova; Eschi Warwick and Garnett Stackelberg. Photos by Martha Grove

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.

Special Love held their 20th Anniversary Celebration Camp at the Bethesda home of Dianne and Alan Kay on September 27. More than 200 guest “campers” ate s’mores, sang campfire songs and bid on auction items, raising more than $140,000 for the charity established by Tom and Sheila Baker to honor their daughter and aid other children in their battle with cancer and HIV. Barry F. Scher, Vice President of Public Affairs for Giant Food, Inc., was honored for 35 years of community service to children; Special Love’s co-founders John Dooley and Dr. Phil Pizzo, and camp physician Dr. Steven Chanock were also recognized for their dedication and commitment.

Above: Maggie Shannon, Barry F. Scher and Robert Keefe; Below (left to right): Dr. Steve Chanock (Special Love physician) and Alan Kay; and Special Love co-founders Dr. Phil Pizzo and Tom Baker. Photos by Jeffrey Snyder Photography

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.

Neiman Marcus Mazza Gallerie was lit up in pink for the Think Pink Benefit for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation on September 30. A cocktail reception preceded the illumination event benefiting the Foundation and honoring Evelyn H. Lauder, its founder and chairman. A minimum of eighty-five percent of all funds raised by the Foundation goes directly to breast cancer research.

Above: Judy Esfandiary, Carol Lascaris, Sheila Johnson and Pam Hooker; Below (left to right): Neiman Marcus general manager Martha Slagle, Tanya Snyder, Raul & Jean Marie Fernandez; Dolly Kay and Anne Ferenz. Photos by Bartholomew Franz

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."

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