- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

“I don’t know if I deserve this prize, but I want it,” exulted Time magazine White House photographer Diana Walker, quoting words suggested to her by her friend Art Buchwald Saturday at the second annual Paul Peck Presidential Awards to reward achievement in support of the U.S. presidency.

Career Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, the evening’s second honoree, also was moved to speak frankly on a more serious note before an intimate gathering of some 200 guests in the Smithsonian Institution Castle about what he termed “the increasing politicalization of our foreign service.”

“What disturbs me is that the large number of appointments don’t bring outstanding qualifications for the job,” he said upon accepting the $25,000 cash award. “This does not speak well for our country at this time.”

Earlier in private, the retired diplomat and former under secretary of state for political affairs said that the president the country most needs now is Abraham Lincoln “for his balance and sense of perspective in a changing world.”

And then there was Sen. Patrick Leahy confessing that he would “much rather be a photographer than a senator” while offering a tribute to Mrs. Walker, whom he hailed as “Lady Di” and praised for her “humanity” in garnering the trust of those she photographed.

“Generations from now will see that she unmasked history,” he concluded about the very socially-connected professional shutterbug whose first job was a magazine assignment to photograph asparagus bunches at Safeway and whose work now is celebrated in museums.

There were public and private encomiums on behalf of Mr. Pickering from such public service stalwarts as former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Gen. Brent Scowcroft (a winner last year along with Professor Richard Neustadt).

“I wallowed in diversity,” Mr. Pickering noted, citing his time in countries as diverse as El Salvador, Nigeria and Israel during a diplomatic career that spanned 40 years. “My mother wondered why I wandered around so much and couldn’t hold a job,” he joked.

The concept behind one of the Smithsonian Institution’s few formal award programs is somewhat abstract in nature, but the vision of its donor Paul Peck, a successful investor and retired U.S. Customs’ information technology manager, is clear. Administered by the National Portrait Gallery, the $2 million Fund for Presidential Studies seeks to engage young people in civic life by illuminating the life and work of U.S. presidents. “Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Mr. Peck told the audience of Smithsonian supporters who included Oatsie Charles (Mrs. Walker’s godmother), Pie Friendly, Jill Sackler, George Stevens Jr., Esther Coopersmith, Ina Ginsburg, Roger Wilkins and former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro.

The National Portrait Gallery, under Director Marc Pachter, houses the nation’s only official portrait collection of all 43 presidents outside of the White House. Since opening in 1968, the gallery has explored and celebrated the presidency in public programs, research, exhibitions, and publications, while amassing a collection of more than 1,200 presidential likenesses.

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