- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

What’s the ultimate summer gathering for Washington insiders? It’s not polo in Poolesville or even a Camp David weekend sleepover.

True natives, like sixth- generation resident Sam Oliphant (in “curtain pants”) and his wife, Laurie, (wearing an orange and green sequined “mermaid” skirt at Thursday’s event) come out, rain or shine, each and every year for the “Country Barbecue” at Villa Firenze, the residence of the Italian ambassador, to benefit the Children’s Hearing and Speech Center at Children’s Hospital.

Details of the annual event, founded 45 years ago by Polly Logan, Villa Firenze’s former chatelaine, and other legendary Washington grandes dames including Janet Auchincloss (Jackie O’s mother), Phyllis Nitze, Caroline Herter and Avis Bohlen, rarely change. The picnic is always on the sweeping lawn with strong drinks poured by volunteer barkeeps and plenty of smoked barbecue under big tents. The look: “very casual,” with guests in the latest colorful “Lily’s” (as in Pulitzer) or outrageous “wallpaper” pants for the youngest generation, traditional seersucker or linen for their parents and grandparents.

Georgetowner Wendy Makins (who’s been coming for 35 years) swears she’s “phasing out” of being in charge of every detail to allow such relative newbies as Jamie Peva (“I’ve only been on the committee for three years”) and such other committee regulars as Nancy Carter, “Sam” Corrigan, Meghan Gabriel, Lucile Huber, Honor Ingersoll and Starr and Stephen Sears, who covet their pre- and apres-party roles — cleaning up included.

“Today, I’m a gofer, not a real estate person,” Mr. Peva pronounced. “I started at 7 this morning getting the booze out of party boss John Richardson’s garage and made four trips back and forth after spending five hours putting up all the tiki torches. ”

Ben Finley, bachelor son of Julie Finley, added that “a lot of us meet spouses here.” Just as Katryna Carothers was agreeing, someone interrupted to point out that Nelse “Cooby” Greenway (whose late mother Lucia was also a party founder), wasn’t there, by which time everyone was back to air kissing and talk of vacation sites (“Where do you summer?”) where the coziness continues.

Others seen chewing on barbecue ribs with all the fixins’ and hitting the dance floor to the sounds of an old-time jazz band included Debs Johns, Betsy Rackley, Georgia Shallcross, Lynn and Robin Nicholas, Yardley Gray, newcomers Paul and Bridget Romness and Children’s Hospital professionals Dr. Sheela Stuart and Dr. Roger Packler.

Dr. Tommie Robinson, director of the Scottish Rites Center for Childhood Language Disorders in Adams Morgan, ambled down the winding lane for the 19th time, passing another party fixture, Terry Bender, the busy organ grinder, on his way to the lawn party below. Mr. Robinson, who seemed to be the only black guest, said he had occasionally been mistaken “for people who work this party,” but was grateful for the crowd of Old Washingtonians who gather — and “have for generations” — to raise funds (about $50,000 this year) “to help the children of this city … the poorest of the poor.”

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