OBERDORFER REPORT ON MINI XVIII
The Washington Mini-Reunion from May 1 to 4 was a great success in the overwhelming consensus of the participants. It was not just a gathering of old and dear friends (though it was that) nor simply a touristic sampling of Washington sights and sounds (also that). It was also, as some remarked, among the mini-reunions that made the participants think the most and provided greatest opportunity to learn first hand about some of the important institutions and issues of our times.
According to the record keeper (Steve Rogers), 96 classmates, three associates (widows of classmates) and 88 wives or friends attended the event in whole or part. It was quite a crowd, but the extraordinary detailed planning by the host committee made it all work with hardly a hitch.
There were many highlights, but by my lights (and those of several others who expressed themselves) the top of the top was Friday, May 2, when we began with remarks about regional and global concerns by three senior State Department officials in State's well-appointed conference room. It went on (following lunch at the Capitol Hill Club) to the U.S. Supreme Court and an extraordinary meeting and personally guided tour by Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Topping off the day was a dinner cruise on the Potomac River including an impromptu dancing exhibition by some classmates and spouses aboard the Odyssey III. More than one classmate was heard to say this was the single most fascinating day of any Mini-reunion he ever attended.
The State Department officials, who were introduced by Bob and Phyllis Oakley, were John Wolf, Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation; John Evans, Director of Russian Affairs in the Bureau of European Affairs; and David Satterfield, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Each spoke and answered questions for more than 30 minutes..
At the Supreme Court, we were met by retired Major General William Suter, the loquacious Clerk of the Court, in the chamber where arguments are heard and great decisions have been handed down, and then by Justice O'Connor, who is generally reputed to be the "swing vote" in many of the closely decided cases before the exalted body. Skip Nalen, who was unable to attend, had recruited O'Connor to speak to us. Answering our questions in the chamber where she customarily asks questions of attorneys, she came across as a direct and straightforward person with a keen intelligence and ready wit. George Towner, who was an instrumental figure in planning for the Mini, remarked that it would be no easy feat to tangle with her in the private conferences when the justices
informally discuss their reactions to cases and issues.
After spending close to a half hour with us in the chamber, Justice O'Connor took us on a tour of the two conference rooms where those discussions take place. Pointing to their paintings on the walls, she commented on the life and times of each of the former chief justices of the historic court from the first, John Jay, through Earl Warren and Warren Burger, the most recent predecessors of the current Chief Justice, William Rehnquist.
After seeing the high court from the inside Friday, it was fascinating to read in Saturday's
newspapers of the lower court judgment in one of the most important contemporary cases, involving the constitutionality of the campaign funding legislation, and to know that it will soon be headed to the courtroom we had just visited.
Some other highlights:
-- The special orange-and-black and miniature tiger favors at the dinners on Thursday night at the Hotel Washington and Saturday night at the atrium adjoining the Old Ebbitt Grill. The sponsors arranged for the opening soup Thursday to be an orange-colored tomato bisque flecked with bits of black pepper, and for the tables Saturday to be decorated with orange and black M&Ms.
-- The remarkable musical performance by former Congressman Jim Symington and his wife Sylvia at the Thursday night dinner.
-- The Saturday morning tour of the National Gallery of Art, introduced via a slide show by Lynn Russell, director of the education division of the Gallery and the spouse of Bill Russell '69.
-- The optional Saturday afternoon activities including the Forum on Americans' Role in the World, conceived and arranged by Hal Saunders, which attracted 42 participants; the tour of Hillwood museum and gardens, the estate of Marjorie Post, heir of the Post cereal fortune, which attracted 37; the tour of Washington National Cathedral, guided by Alan Kirk '50, Roger Kirk's cousin, and of Dumbarton Oaks (24); the new International Spy Museum (8); tour of the Phillips Collection galleries (7); the Holocaust Museum and tour of Mall area monuments (5 each). As one participant, I found the Forum particularly thought-provoking.
-- The invitation to all classmates and associates extended Saturday night by Ted Nicholson to join the next Mini, planned for May 2-4, 2004 at Scottsdale, Arizona, with optional side trips to the Grand Canyon and Sedona.
-- The final buffet breakfast on Sunday morning at the J.W. Marriott Hotel where more talk among friends was held, common experiences were discussed and goodbyes were said.
It was a superb series of events made all the more so - as ever - by the opportunity to share them with so many great friends, associates and spouses from Princeton's greatest class.
- Don Oberdorfer
For Class Secretary Dan Duffield's expanded report on Mini XVIII, click here.
P.S. to the Supreme Court visit: George Towner has brought to our attention an interesting article about Justice O'Connor, "A Cowgirl's Sense of the Constitution and the Court," from the May 5 Washington Post.