- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2008

THE EVENT: 90th birthday festivities for much-beloved grande dame Ruth Buchanan, hosted by her children, Diana “Dede” Wilsey, Bonnie Matheson and Wiley T. Buchanan III.

THE SCENE: It was “old home week” for extended family members (including seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren) and 150-plus guests who gathered to dine and dance at a local club Friday night.

It was, as they say, a Very Major Fete, and the newly nonagenarian granddaughter of the founder of Dow Chemical Co. and chatelaine of two great houses, Underoak on Nebraska Avenue Northwest and Beaulieu in Newport, R.I., wouldn’t have had it any other way — especially the dancing part.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be a tea party,” Mrs. Wilsey said with a chuckle while noting that her mother did try early on to prevent things from getting out of hand. Happy to say that her pre-party diktats (“no big flowers,” “keep the jewels down”) were mostly overlooked by party time. How could floral arrangements be less than magnificent when the guest of honor loves her gardens so? As for the jewels, one can only speculate that more than a few ladies trekked to their vaults that day. “If you can’t wear mummy’s emeralds at a private, black-tie party for Ruth Buchanan,” one rather encrusted dowager reasoned, “just where do you wear them?”

WHO WAS THERE: All the Buchanans and their kin: Trainas, Mathesons, Ohrstroms, Hilliards and Wheelers, plus a number of ex-spouses getting along as nicely as characters on a Christmas Day soap opera episode. (“All very civilized,” one old guard observer noted.) Cave dwellers came out of their caves from the Washington area, joining friends from Newport, Palm Beach, Middleburg, California, Paris, New York and Texas, including: John Damgard, Mary Weinmann, Elinor Farquhar, John and Ana Hoskinson, Rusty Powell, Jan and Tazewell Shepard, Mary Ann Stoessel, Diana Prince, Chic Cudlip, Buck and Sally Chapoton, Jane Sloat, David Rust, Jan Evans, Cynthia Helms, Leith Adams, George and Laurita Lauder, Virginia Daly, Robert and Sylvia Blake and Elizabeth Burton (who hosted a splendid lunch the following day for 60 family members and special friends).

MOST INTERESTING GUESTS: Mrs. Wilsey, something of a legend herself in San Francisco, where she is a leading social figure and philanthropist. Her fundraising efforts for that city’s new $200 million de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park have been so prodigious that wags now call it the “Dede” Young Museum. Also her first husband, John Traina, a vintner, entrepreneur and art collector who recently sold his hoard of 450 Faberge cigarette cases to Russian oil and metals billionaire Viktor Vekselberg (who will presumably display them in a Moscow museum alongside the 180 items, including nine Faberge eggs, he bought from the Forbes family in 2004).

TRIBUTES: After toasts, poems and heartfelt words from Mrs. Buchanan’s children, Los Angeles filmmaker Todd Traina screened a special “This Is Your Life” video with his grandmother’s favorite tunes, endearing depictions of her as “a pretty dancing butterfly” and “a matriarch and starlet” by the family’s younger generations, and photos in remembrance of her first husband, paterfamilias Wiley T. Buchanan Jr., who served as ambassador to Austria and Luxembourg and chief of protocol during the Eisenhower administration. Most amusing: Mrs. Buchanan’s own taped attempts to remember all of her great-grandchildren’s names and her list of favorite things, among them “snakes” and “a stag line of about 12 guys.”

“She doesn’t suffer boredom,” longtime friend John Peters Irelan said. “She always wants to enjoy life and gives so much pleasure to others while she does.”

“Wherever you are, Mother, is where the party is,” Mrs. Wilsey chirped to the crowd, after which Mrs. Buchanan was more than ready to get festivities back on track.

“This is all lovely, but I’d rather be dancing,” the birthday girl said as the orchestra obligingly struck up “Just in Time” amid talk of plans for her centennial.

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