- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

While most top envoys accredited to Washington were in New York last week for the fireworks at the opening of the United Nation’s General Assembly, others celebrated here at the 28th annual Ambassadors Ball, at which members of Congress and top business leaders fete the diplomats to benefit the local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“I don’t have to be in New York,” Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek said Thursday night at the Grand Hyatt Washington. “We have a wonderful ambassador there, and I don’t want to step on his toes.” Other colleagues huddled, exchanging their thoughts on the day’s U.N. speakers.

Nicaraguan Ambassador Salvador Stadthagen, who is holding his breath until his country’s early November elections are over, had strong words about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“Chavez is doing no service [for] the rest of Latin America,” said Mr. Stadthagen, who, while an American University graduate student, was a resistance leader opposed to the former Marxist Sandinista regime back home.

For others, the fall season’s first major social event was an opportunity simply to catch up with friends and talk about summer vacations, impending knee operations and their newest grandchildren.

Jeanne Oates Angulo, the ball’s organizer for the past 12 years, celebrated for the last time as executive director of the MS chapter here because she wants to “spend more time with my adorable grandchildren. Want to see a picture?” She was surrounded by former co-chairs, including Esther Coopersmith, Patricia Oxley, Audrey Ullman, Mary Johnston and Janet Waxman.

Another change became evident when soon-to-depart Icelandic Ambassador Helgi Agustsson led the “Ambassadors’ Waltz” with his wife, Heba, both known for intrepid dance-floor skills since they met at a college social event. As other diplomats joined them, it immediately became obvious who would step into the Agustssons’ shoes: Swiss Ambassador Urs Ziswiler and his wife, Ronit, who glided through their fancy steps with perfect Continental aplomb.

“We hate to leave,” Mr. Agustsson said of his planned October farewell, “but one of our sons now lives in Atlanta, so we’ll be back, often.” Ambassador of Grenada Denis Antoine, dean of the corps for the Western Hemisphere, caught everyone’s eye with his gorgeous guest, opera singer Abiodun Koya, who is originally from Nigeria.

Other envoys in the crowd included those from Ireland, Mexico, Liechtenstein, Poland and Canada, plus a few solo diplomatic wives: Hungary’s Nada Simonyi, Portugal’s Cheryl Catarino, Malta’s Maria-Therese Lowell and Serbia’s Jelica Vujacic who all loved their diplomatic gifts (Jay Strongwater frames from Neiman Marcus).

NBC and MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell executed her duties as mistress of ceremonies in a stunning off-the-shoulder sky blue silk gown as her husband, “Chef Geoff” Tracy proudly looked on beside fellow head-table guests, who included Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and his wife, Edi, “Presenting Sponsor” Booz Allen Hamilton Chairman Ralph W. Shrader, and “Sponsor” Ralph Boyd of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.

Congressional co-chairwomen Annette Shelby, Nancy Kanjorski and Linda Bachus were there as well — with their powerful husbands, of course (Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski and Rep. Spencer Bachus, all upholding a longtime bipartisan tradition that has raised $11 million for multiple sclerosis research and patient treatment programs since 1957.

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