They had to wait in line just to get into the room last night as official and unofficial Washington gathered to pay tribute to someone whose personal journey had been their inspiration: Marvella Bayh, who died of cancer last April at the age of 46.
They were 400 people jammed into a room in the Sheraton Carlton that normally holds 200 for a party to celebrate the publication of her posthumously published autobiography, "Marvella: A Personal Journey," writing with Mary Lynn Kotz.
"It's not going to be a good night," said Becky Rodgers, who with her husband, former Florida Rep. Paul Rogers, was one of Marvella and Birch Bayh's closest friends.
She was wrong. The evening turned out to be a festival of remembering Marvella Bayh, a chance to exorcise their cumulative grief.
Some remembered her as the promising political wife. Dan Shorr, the then foreign correspondent, told of the young woman who sat in the front row of a lecture hall in Terre Haute, Ind., listening intently and taking copious notes on his observations about the Soviet Union.
"My husband is interested in running for the Senate," she told Shorr later. "We're trying to find out everything we can so we can get his foreign policy position straight."
Some remembered her at her first important party in Washington which happened to fall on her 30th birthday, a fact that she bemoaned at the dinner table of Vice President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson.
"I feel like I'm falling into an abyss," Marvella Bayh told the dinner guests. To which Dorothy Marks remembered telling her husband, "Leonard, make room in the abyss." [line omitted] liness. "I'd been really busy and away from the house for about two months straight," said Steve Martindale, who lived across the street from the Bayhs for five years. "One day Marvella called up and said in this sunny voice of hers, 'Steve, I'd love to lend you the lawnmower -- if you think you need it.'"
Some remembered her as a witty ad resourceful speaker who was never at a loss for a quote. Jeanette Williams, researching a speech of her own, came across a quote that Marvella told her she had gotten from Adlai Stevenson. "I put it on a card and I'm going to use it next week," said Williams, reciting it to another Senate wife, Susan DeConcini. "It goes 'Flattery is nice unless you inhale it.' And that's worth remembering isn't it?"
One remembered her as his mother. "I've come to learn that you don't get over it," said Evan Bayh, 22, of her death. "It's just something you learn to live with."
One remembered her as his wefe. It was the "worst mistake" Sen. Birch Bayh said he ever made, letting Marvella turn down Lyndon Johnson's offer to be vice chairperson of the Democratic National Committee in 1967. "It was very selfish of me . . . Marvella said she was born just 10 years later, Marvella would have taken that job in a minute?"
And one remembered her as an inspiration. "When President Carter offered me this job (head of his advisory committee on women)," said Lynda Johnson Robb, "I remembered Marvella and thought this was a chance for me to do something on my own."