April 11, 2000
The Four Seasons Hotel
I’ll admit I never once walked into the Four Seasons Hotel on M Street until Tuesday night. I thought when the fancy doorman with the hat and coattails found out I was a college student, I would be thrown off the premises immediately.
But Tuesday night I walked through those glass doors – the doorman actually opened the door for me – and down the stairs to the ballroom, where Washington journalists had gathered for a dinner honoring Jim Lehrer, the executive editor and anchor for PBS’s NewsHour.
The event was hosted by The American News Women’s Club as a fund-raiser for its scholarship fund. His Excellency Se?n O’Huiginn, the ambassador of Ireland, was the master of ceremonies for the event. For a man who spends most of his time talking about politics in Northern Ireland, he was one of the funniest presenters of the night.
But let’s back up a bit. I don’t want to mislead anyone, I wasn’t exactly a paying guest. My job was to make sure about 500 guests found their table cards and got their parking validated. In exchange, I got to pretend I wasn’t a college student for a night and dine with some of Washington’s elite.
At around 6:15 p.m., the guests started to arrive. Sequined gowns, fur stoles, beaded hand-hags and tuxedos – there weren’t any rented ones here – began to fill the lobby. The table cards were distributed with few debacles, and I sharpened my skills in finding a last name upside-down. Then I was called into the Green Room.
There, all of the VIP Jim Lehrer roasters and Jim Lehrer himself were hanging out, chatting and adjusting their bow-ties. Photographers snapped their camera shutters, waiters poured drinks and organizers tried to breathe as they tried to get the sophisticates into order. I found myself amid utter confusion – and it was cool.
I don’t mean to name-drop, but here’s the list. NewsHour’s Robert MacNeil, Mark Shields, Roger Rosenblatt, Gwen Ifill and Margaret Keillor came to poke fun at their colleague. Author Garrison Keillor and WETA head Sharon Percy Rockefeller also shared in the fun. Former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, his wife Sally Quinn and newswoman Andrea Mitchell also sat at the front table in the ballroom to pay tribute to Lehrer.
After each VIP made their entrances into the ballroom, I quietly crept to my table. The time came for my second job of the night – handing out the gift basket to the lucky raffle-prize winner. Mission accomplished, and I could now sit down for dinner.
Later, as coffee was poured and the dessert tarts were devoured, attention turned to the guest of honor. One of the funniest roasters was Lehrer’s longtime friend and NewsHour columnist Roger Rosenblatt. He poked fun at Lehrer’s unusual love of vintage buses, and shared with the audience Lehrer’s embarrassing nickname from the military.
Gwen Ifill and Margaret Warner made a hilarious news spoof, showing Lehrer what their plans for the NewsHour were when he leaves for his book tour next month.
Other roasters made fun of Lehrer’s prolific writing. He is the author of 11 novels, two memoirs and three plays. Lehrer’s next book, The Special Prisoner, will be published in May, but Rosenblatt said he wouldn’t call it Lehrer’s latest book.
He writes so much, there will probably be another book in the mail when I get home, with the usual inscription, `Cheers, Jim.’