Lee Annenberg made it official yesterday, in case the president hadn't already heard. In a meeting at the White House, she told him that she is leaving her $50,115-a-year job as U.S. chief of protocol on Jan. 1.
"I figure that on New Year's Eve we can kiss each other like we always have and that will be that," she said of how she expects to spend her last day on the job for her boss, the president.
There probably haven't been too many chiefs of protocol who could make that kind of a claim, but Lee Annenberg and her husband, Walter, have been entertaining the Reagans and members of the so-called Reagan "kitchen cabinet" at a New Year's Eve house party at their Palm Springs estate, Sunnylands, for the past 14 years.
"I told the president that Walter said the decision to leave was irrevocable," said Annenberg at a dinner last night given for her and her husband by Moroccan Ambassador Ali Bengelloun and his wife, Jackie.
Annenberg said a few weeks ago that she was thinking about leaving her job because she could not spend enough time with her husband, the former U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, who is publisher of Triangle Publications of Philadelphia.
"At first Walter thought he'd be able to spend more time with me in Washington, but it didn't work out that way," said Lee Annenberg. "He's going to be 74 early next year, and he wants me to be with him as much as possible."
She said Newsweek magazine had been "unfair" in reporting last week that certain White House officials were not sorry to see her go and had wanted her out of the job.
"I don't know if there were enemies but, look, in every office you have discussions about things," she said, denying that she and an assistant to the presi- See MOROCCO, B2, Col. 2 MOROCCO, From B1 dent, Joseph Canzeri, had had an argument. "What you have to do is overlook these things."
Among the 50 formally clad guests was presidential counselor Edwin Meese III who, like others, was lavish in his praise of Lee Annenberg.
"She's been a terrific chief of protocol. It's going to be hard to fill her shoes."
While Meese said the search for her successor will begin in earnest now, he professed to have no particular candidates in mind. When someone raised the idea of a chief of protocol and spouse working as a team, he did not rule it out.
"The couple aspect is important if it can be achieved," said Meese, "but what Lee brought was a certain experience and a matter of personality."
After a pigeon pie and roast lamb dinner, Bengelloun lifted his glass to toast "the most extraordinary chief of protocol I've ever met -- and believe me, I've met many chiefs of protocol because I'm in Washington for the second time."
Annenberg, who had tears in her eyes as she listened to Bengelloun, her husband, a Cabinet officer and two U. S. senators sing her praises, said none of it would have been possible "if the president hadn't asked me and if Walter hadn't said I could come."
Attorney General William French Smith remembered a remark by Walter Annenberg soon after Lee took office. "When it came to the consort role, Walter said at first it would be difficult to walk six paces behind her, then four paces and more recently two paces. I knew then it was just a matter of time--and I think we are at that time," said Smith.
Other guests included Republican Sens. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Charles Percy of Illinois and Mark Hatfield of Oregon; Deputy Secretary of State William P. Clark; Under Secretary of State Walter J. Stoessel Jr.; Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders; International Communication Agency Director Charles Wick; and Deputy Chief of Protocol Thomas Nassif, who is among those being talked about as Lee Annenberg's successor.