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Old Angler's Inn Proprietor Olympia Reges Dies

Mrs. Reges refused to apologize for her outburst. But the feisty restaurateur went on to host many Washington luminaries.
Mrs. Reges refused to apologize for her outburst. But the feisty restaurateur went on to host many Washington luminaries. (Family Photo)

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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 4, 2005

Olympia Celea Reges, who once ejected a Supreme Court justice, a U.S. senator and a Cabinet secretary from her restaurant, the Old Angler's Inn, after they walked in wearing soggy hiking attire and clutching sack lunches, died Aug. 31. She had been the restaurant's owner for nearly 50 years.

"I run this place to make money, not to serve tramps," Mrs. Reges said, rebuking the underdressed diners who dripped into her newly remodeled restaurant May 6, 1961. The hikers, who had trudged 11 miles in the rain, draped their wet ponchos on the tables and unwrapped their homemade sandwiches, ordering only beverages or glasses of water.

"Get off that rug. Get over there with the rest of the wet ones," she told Sen. Paul Douglas, the distinguished Illinois Democrat. To usually dapper Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall, an exasperated Mrs. Reges said: "You look like a bum. Get out!"

"Do you know whom you are ordering around?" one hiker asked.

"Well, is he going to clean up the mess you make?" she retorted, pointing to the puddles on the floor. The hikers retreated.

Mrs. Reges, 77, a Macedonian immigrant and never one to surrender her ground, died of respiratory failure at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. She was a Potomac resident.

Her scolding made the front page of newspapers, because the party included Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, a former Florida governor, a rear admiral, the wife of presidential press secretary Pierre Salinger and a Washington Post writer and photographer, who promptly splashed photos of the bedraggled hikers across the news wires.

Mrs. Reges refused to apologize for the outburst. "What would you have done?" she said. "Well, I am a very temperamental woman, and I say what I think!"

She later realized that Douglas, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had jurisdiction over a bill that would allow her sister to receive permanent resident status.

Mrs. Reges also began to worry that she would lose her business license and be deported because of the incident, but her fears were allayed by a new customer, Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Warren made a standing appointment for lunch with his law clerks at the inn. He told her, according to one of his law clerks, that she lived in a free country now and was free to evict the attorney general, a Supreme Court justice "and anyone else who abused her hospitality." He also gave her his private office phone number and urged her to call him if anyone ever tried to bother her over the matter.

She had come a long way from her birthplace in Ano Grammatiko, Macedonia, which is now part of Greece. Her father was the town priest, and her mother came from a well-to-do family that owned sheep. She was sent at age 14 to a school in the port city of Thessaloniki, where she learned the Greek, French and Romanian languages (she later picked up German, Italian and English). After World War II, she was sent to Germany by the government and ended up in a camp for displaced persons.

By the 1950s, she managed to immigrate to Washington, where she worked for a Greek charitable organization and then married. In 1958, she and her husband bought the Old Angler's Inn, along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal on MacArthur Boulevard in Potomac. While her husband practiced law, Mrs. Reges ran the restaurant.

"She was sociable and liked holding court. For awhile, in her day, it was like a salon," said Andre Condon, who began working at the restaurant in 1968 and has run it for the past 10 years.

Retired newspaperman and novelist Les Whitten described her as gracious and fiercely proud of her roots. Late one night, after a party, "she started talking about Macedonia . . . and I never heard such poetry," Whitten said. She wrote a privately published book about the legends of her homeland and Alexander the Great.

Her restaurant has hosted many Washington luminaries since that 1961 incident. Former house speaker Newt Gingrich, in the midst of a bank-account-draining divorce in 1999, ordered the most expensive item on the menu, a $450 bottle of the 1983 Chateau Latour Bordeaux. Reviewers panned the wine but praised the venue as one of the area's most romantic spots. Mrs. Reges retired from active management of the business about a decade ago, but her sons and Condon plan to keep the inn operating.

Her husband, John T. Reges, died in 1980. Her daughter, Kathleen Reges, died in July.

Survivors include two sons, Gregory P. Reges and Mark A. Reges, both of Potomac; and four grandsons.


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