"If things get rough, you can borrow that suit of armor anytime," said American University President Richard Berendzen, pointing to a heavy-plated figure off the foyer of his home. He was welcoming Interior Secretary James G. Watt to last night's early-bird birthday party for Kay Shouse, Wolf Trap benefactor and dowager patroness of the performing arts.

The reception turned out to be as sprightly as Shouse, who will be 85 next Tuesday, About 100 old friends from a long past of public service in both politics and the arts joined to help get an early start on the milestone birthday.

Shouse, who survived the deluge that engulfed Wolf Trap Monday on the opening of its 10th season, will be prepared for future galas. Berendzen presented her with a canvas rain hat sporting the American University insignia and a huge umbrella from designer Frankie Welch.

Asked which of the anniversaries -- Wolf Trap's 10th or her own 85th -- she is going to enjoy the most, Shouse didn't hesitate with her answer: "My 95th."

The special surprise came when four members of the university's performing arts department came to serenade her with songs spanning the years between 1910 and 1914, when she would have been a dancing teenager. As the performers belted out such tunes as "Peg of My Heart," "When You Wore a Tulip" and "You Make Me Feel So Blue," Shouse and the guests joined for some toe-tapping, hand-clapping accompaniment.

Michael Deaver, White House deputy chief of staff, watched his 9-year-old daughter, Amanda, help serve the reception tidgits and observed, "I hope that she's getting paid. We need it."

Berendzen, a longtime friend of the Deavers, said he has also offered the suit of armor -- authenic Spanish -- to the White House staffer.

"I wore it to my first faculty meeting as university president," he added.