Friday, November 16, 2001

Honoring a diplomat or policy-maker whose achievements exemplify Wilsonian principles of international law, self-determination and collective security took on particular importance this year at the annual Armistice Day salute benefiting Woodrow Wilson House, the 28th president’s last home and Washington’s only presidential museum.

@$:Special guest Sen. Christopher J. Dodd wasted little time summing up the appropriateness of bestowing the Woodrow Wilson Statesmanship Award upon his longtime friend and colleague, former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, at a time of national crisis.

“His tremendous contribution in hammering out the remarkable achievement that soon came to be known as ‘The Mitchell Plan’ might eventually bring peace to the Middle East,” Mr. Dodd predicted at the Spanish ambassador’s residence Tuesday night. The Connecticut Democrat also cited the awardee’s “Herculean efforts” in accomplishing the historic Good Friday accord to end the violence in Northern Ireland, for which he received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

After joking that his political skills included “the dubious ability to speak in depth and at great length on any subject without usually conveying any knowledge,” it was hardly surprising Mr. Mitchell’s response was notably brief and to the point.

In Wilson’s era, he said, the United States was just emerging as a global leader. Today, it is the world’s sole superpower and has a very complex role to play. The danger, he warned, is that many Americans, especially younger ones, might think their country’s sole basis of strength derives from military and economic might rather than the “basic values as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, which guarantee equal justice and fair opportunity under the law.”

“We must always remember that we were a great nation long before we were a great power,” he said., hitting just the right concluding note with a crowd still somewhat edgy about returning to “life as usual” in the capital.

Though the number of paying guests (about 150) was down from previous years, it was more likely due to anthrax-related mail delivery problems than the deleterious effect of a shaky economy on $250-a-pop (minimum) fund-raising events.

“We sent out all the invitations on Oct. 10 and then suddenly realized that all of them plus some of the checks were probably in Lima, Ohio, being decontaminated,” said benefit chairwoman Connie Carter Lawson, who adroitly mobilized her committee to round up likely attendees via personal phone calls.

High dollar contributions were unaffected, happily enough, with Lockheed Martin Corp. and C. Gregory Earls of U.S. Technologies Inc. coming through as benefactors at the $10,000 level and Baker & Hostetler, the Max and Victoria Dreyfuss Foundation and Jonathan Ledecky signing on as $5,000 sponsors. Wilson House Director Frank J. Aucella reported other good news as well: an additional $150,000 from a “Save American Treasures” federal grant will help realize $480,000 of the estimated $650,000 needed to complete a major brick repointing project and do repairs on the roof, drains and garden walls.

Judging by the intime conversation groups that formed in various corners of the grand interconnected salons, it was soon evident that many guests lived within walking distance of the museum, at 2340 S St. NW.

“It’s a Kalorama party,” Washington Ballet Chairman Kay Kendall exclaimed after noticing both of her next-door neighbors on Tracy Place NW, Charles and Dianne Alfandre Bruce and Michael and Rosalie Murphy, partaking of the Spanish buffet in the dining room just before speech time. Others spotted at the very neighborly affair included fellow Kalorama-ites John Firestone, Joan and Maurice Tobin, Sandy and Ellie Trowbridge, and ABC Newsman Chris Wallace and his wife, Lorraine.

Among the hinterlanders: Willee Lewis, Nini Ferguson, Wiley and Janice Buchanan, Lloyd Hand, and Italian Ambassador Ferdinando Salleo and his wife, Anna Maria.

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