- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

Even though the big thermometer under the linden trees registered a mere 52 degrees, the 38th Annual Meridian Ball on Friday was one hot party.

With more than 900 guests (a record) contributing a half million dollars (also a new high), Stuart Holliday, the Meridian International Center’s new president, and his wife, Gwen, warmly welcomed guests atop the rose-trimmed double staircase as if they were greeting them at their own front door.

Immediately, well-healed, well-positioned ball guests arriving for Meridian’s spectacular desert buffet and dancing, acknowledged that the long receiving line was gone, replaced by a more relaxed atmosphere in what is still one of Washington’s most elegant mansions.

Younger faces (and bodies) prompted one well-known social columnist to whisper to another, “I don’t know half these people.” When asked about the state of Meridian, a smiling Ambassador (to the U.N.) Holliday said, “The Cutlers did a terrific job and I look forward to taking Meridian forward in fulfilling its potential in addressing today’s public diplomacy challenges.”

One veteran ball observer was quite blunt: “Tonight, the old fogies went home to bed after their embassy dinners and all the younger people came to party,” she uttered and then begged not to be quoted. From the bevy of bare shoulders and well-toned bodies in slinky gowns, obviously Linden Circle Co-chairs Judy and Leland Baldwin Bishop III had successfully brought their 275 dinner partners at neighboring White Meyer House through the back garden to have fun.

Foreign envoys led by Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal made the rounds with the old and new guard. “Walt and I have known each other ever since he and Didi were in the Kingdom. We are old friends and, frankly, he is my mentor,” said the approachable prince.

Diana Duenas, wife of Costa Rican Ambassador Tomas Duenas in “my mother and grandmother’s vintage diamonds,” looked smashing in Caroline Herrera’s midnight blue silk and lace evening ensemble, while other more scantily clad ladies hovered under tall gas garden lamps.

“I can’t decide whether it’s better to freeze and look good or to be warm and let my makeup melt,” admitted Lori Leasure of Potomac, who was standing with her ex-sister-in-law Marisa.

In the ballroom, Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos and his wife, Fabiola, showed off their fancy footwork while a pleased, more relaxed Walt Cutler, Meridian president for 17 years, and his wife, Didi, in rust and red velvet, took to the dance floor.

“Oh, yes, I’m much more relaxed this ball and feeling good about the transition,” said the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “If you think anything is suffering from my absence, just look around: the younger Linden Society members have taken hold after nine years and turned into serious Meridian supporters.”

Administration dignitaries included HUD Secretary Alphonso R. Jackson and other Cabinet members: Commerce’s Carlos Gutierrez, Homeland Security’s Michael Chertoff and Protocol Chief Donald Ensenat. Congressional Co-Chairs Sen. Chuck Hagel and Rep. John D. Dingell and their wives were seen along with Britain’s Sir David and Lady Manning, France’s Jean-David Levitte and Marie-Cecile, and Sweden’s Gunnar Lund with Princess Bernadotte and diplomats from Argentina, Chile, Dominican Republic, Finland, Hungary, Jordan, Malta, New Zealand, Poland, Turkey and Yemen.

—Gail Scott

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