About 350 of her closest friends came to wish the "grande dame of consumerism" happy birthday last night -- people she had fought . . . or fought for . . . or fought with.
Esther Peterson's 75th birthday is next week, and the National Consumers League threw her a party in honor of it and to present her the annual "Trumpeter Award" -- for "standing out front of a lot of people who are big, and behind a lot of people who are small."
Friends and co-workers from all phases of public advocacy -- labor, civil rights, women's rights and consumers -- stood in line to see her, greet her and share kisses, concerns and good wishes. Among these were Elizabeth Dole, assistant to the president; former senator Eugene McCarthy and Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio). They crammed themselves into the reception room at National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to pay tribute.
In a speech, former secretary of labor Willard Wirtz compared Peterson to Eleanor Roosevelt and Lady Bird Johnson, "not because they are women," he said, but because they "brought more humanity into public service than anybody I know."
Joe Glazer, a lyrical labor proponent, led the group in choruses of an original song whose final verse commemorated Peterson's work with presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter and ended with "When Ronald Reagan calls for Esther, that'll be the day . . ."
Beneath the levity, however, ran Peterson's concern for the consumer movement today. Her plans, she said, are to "keep blowing a trumpet as long as I can."
Peterson pointed out that she was a consumer advocate long before the minimum wage and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and said she is afraid the present administration will force consumer advocates to "reinvent the wheel. I'm afraid we'll have to start all over again."
Susan King, former chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said during the reception, "If we had 10 more Esthers, the future would be less bleak. She represents everything the consumer movement stands for: generosity of spirit, the role the consumer plays individually, and that everyone has a right to be treated fairly."