The celebrations had begun as small breakfasts 22 years ago when he first came to the Senate, but for Jacob Javits' 75th birthday, only the stately resonance of a Senate caucus room would accommodate his significance in the Senate and the size of the guest list.
Staff members who had been there from the beginning watched in some wonder as the guests they had invited passed in a dignified parade to pay their respects to the liberal Republican from New York. They were there to pay their respects as well to the tradition that honors statesmanship and, above all, survival, beyond all concern for its place on the ideological spectrum.
There were diplomats and dignitaries, a near quorum of the Senate Cabinet secretaries, former aides and fund-raisers, and "the ambassadors to so many countries it makes me blush," as Javits himself put it in his remarks to the celebrants last evening.
Egyptian Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal talked intently with a political counselor from the Chinese embassy, Cao Kui Seng, while newly hatched presidential hopeful Robert Dole exchanged campaign new with Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) The day did not melt with the ice in their drinks - there was work to do.
Which was its own fitting tribute to the minority leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, particularly in a town that puts a high price on the kind of high praise that Javits evoked from his colleagues - testimonials to his incessant hard work, his keen mind, and his ability to evoke compromise from the most determined combatants.
Javits himself spent part of the time working - "Have you read the resolution on Iran?" Did you get the copy of that letter I sent you?" - and part of it reflecting with old friends such as Special Ambassador Elliott Richardson. "It kind of sneaks up on you," he said of his years, to Richardson. "Surely, you don't feel 75," Richardson said with a smile. "You never do." Javits said.
McGovern praised him as "the most articulate member of the Senate" and Richardson called him "a natural-born matchmaker, unique, in terms of his total effectiveness in the Senate."
Marion javits had "dashed down" from New York for a few hours, as her husband put it, and she deftly turned aside the often-asked question about whether her husband plans to seek reflection next year. "I hope he does exactly what he wants to do," she said, and that was that.
His staff had collected the taped comments of 46 of Javits' colleagues as a gift for him - comments from past presidents (Nixon and Ford) and the present one, from conservatives, Democrats and the whole kaleidoscope in between.
Javits described his own "unbounded joy" in his job and offered up what might have sounded like a valedictory instead of a birthday address.
"I hope I have made some small contributions to our times," he said. "We all know we live in dangerous days. . . but we are a decent people. . . and I hope I have been an honest trustee." CAPTION: Picture, From left: Robert Dole and Charles Mathias with Joy, Jacob and Marion Javits, by Harry Naltchayan - The Washington Post.