Carolina Herrera

Former first lady Nancy Reagan, dressed in Oscar de la Renta, returned to Washington for a dinner for 600 admirers at the Ronald Reagan building.



Nancy Reagan, making her first visit to Washington since President Reagan’s funeral, was the star at a dinner for 600 ardent admirers held at the Ronald Reagan Building Wednesday night. You could easily call it a Reagan Rhapsody the way Nancy looked, dressed in a long white jeweled dress by Oscar de la Renta and diamonds and pearls. Someone said she looked like a luminous Queen of the May. The reception she got would be envied by any rock star. If it wasn’t a night to remember, there never has been one.

The great room where the dinner was held was filled with big shots, Republicans and Democrats alike. So how sweet that bipartisanship reigned.

The celebration, called “A Nation Honors Nancy Reagan,” was a most thrilling night for her, hearing herself lauded to the skies for being not only a wonderful first lady for eight years but a wonderful woman in adversity — courageous, steadfast and loyal beyond measure. And, of course, the Reagans’ love story for the ages was addressed by every speaker. (“With Nancy … my life was complete,” Ronald Reagan often said. “With her, nothing was impossible.”)

Usually speeches at a tribute party are forgettable at best, but not at this one. The remarks given by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (yes, that Nancy Pelosi), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (his was straight from the heart), Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid were memorably warm and eloquent. You can take those four anywhere. But speech-wise, Vice President Dick Cheney‘s stole the show. He was amazing in his comments and I have never seen Nancy Reagan so touched. Nor have I ever heard Nancy make a speech so touching as the one she gave that night. Not too many dry eyes around.

As usual, Diane Sawyer was merely sensational as the mistress of ceremonies. It’s Diane who keeps the evening’s events moving right along. Smooth as silk, she is. And if you think that’s easy, try it some time.

This story first appeared in the May 13, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Joining Diane in the ceremonies was Tony Bennett, who sang all those songs that everyone loves.

The room was filled with all those wildly important people you’ve heard about and maybe even love. Lynn Cheney, in a pale blue evening suit, was there with the vice president, who sat on Nancy’s right, with Sen. Frist on her left. The international philanthropist billionairess Lily Safra, dressed by London’s Anouska Hempel, sat next to Condoleezza Rice at the head table, along with Eunice and Sergeant Shriver. It’s impossible not to be impressed by Condoleezza Rice. Her IQ is in the stratosphere, but how nice that her fashion sense is not far behind. In a long, black satin skirt and a white satin ruffled blouse, she was tout a fait, comme il faut.

In the crowd were Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (I sat next to him and I’m glad) and his charming wife, Joyce, in white chiffon; Sen. John McCain; Mica and Bob Mosbacher; former California governor Pete Wilson and his wife, Gayle; Steve and Kip Forbes; Lucky Roosevelt; Buffy and Bill Cafritz (she was in a black-and-white Joanna Mastroianni); Sen. Kit Bond; Sen. John Warner; Howard Baker and his wife, Nancy; Mary Jane and Charlie Wick; the Joe Albrittons; Cecile and Ezra Zilkha; Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha; Louise Grunwald; Lynn and Oscar Wyatt; Betsy Bloomingdale; Mike Deaver; the Kenneth Dubersteins; the James Billingtons; the William Websters; the Mandell Ourismans; Genny and Frederick Ryan (he is the head of the Ronald Reagan Library in California); Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and his wife, Rebecca; John Negroponte, the new director of national intelligence; Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; Mary and Mike Wallace; Christopher Wallace; Joanne and Jack Kemp; Casey Ribicoff; Merv Griffin; Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera; Marion Jorgensen; the incomparable Robert Higdon, and, last but not least, the beautiful California lawyer Maria Hummer and her husband, Bob Tuttle. They are our new ambassadorial couple at the Court of St. James. England will love them. By the way, the evening was a benefit for the Ronald Reagan Library and more than $2 million was raised.

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The next afternoon, there was a lunch at the White House given by Barbara Bush for Nancy and her 30 closest friends. Almost everyone not wearing a little white suit, including Nancy, was wearing a little Chanel suit. It’s said the White House has a new chef and you could tell it by the menu: Chilled avocado soup with spiced Maine shrimp, potato-crusted yellowtail snapper, arugula, crest and chicory salad and, for dessert, a “bouquet of flowers, lemon mousse, raspberry creme brulee with kiwi sauce.” It sounds like Laura Bush got a pretty good cook. But more of all this on Wednesday.

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