Seconds before the start of the prestigious Jefferson Award ceremony, Sam Beard, president of the American Institute for Public Service, gave the celebrity lineup of honorees and presenters--including Bob Hope and Cheryl Tiegs--specific instructions on what to do once they got behind the mike.
"If this thing drags on, it'll ruin the impact," coached Beard, whose organization sponsors these coveted service awards. "So keep it short. This is what we do: Presenter makes remarks, awardee accepts the award, both smile for the camera and presenter sits down. Got it?
"There'll be all kinds of people with flash cameras and all this craziness, so just let them go on click, click, clicking . . . and it's over. So here we go."
And so it went yesterday at the 10th annual presentation of Jefferson Awards in the gilded East Conference Room in the "hallowed" (Hope's description) halls of the Supreme Court building.
There were, just as Beard predicted, dozens of cameramen and about 200 spectators cramming into the room to get a glimpse of the awardees, including Hope, Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), and Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.), and of presenters, among them Tiegs, newscaster Howard K. Smith and filmmaker Gordon Parks.
First, though, there was the reception. Held in the adjacent West Conference Room. Starring Cheryl Tiegs.
She breezed past ogling partyers, plopped her straw bag in a nearby chair and broke out the lip gloss and mirror compact.
"I've got to get ready," she said, examining her famous face and patting the stuff on her lips just so. Not that she didn't look perfect when she came in. The gold-colored Anne Klein silk sarong, matching jacket and bronze spiked sandals fit her perfect frame perfectly. She was clearly the best-dressed person there.
"I'm very much in tune with America," she said, searching her bag for a wire-bristled brush. "After all, I'm the All-American Model, the All-American Girl. It's not like I've gone out of my element."
She's worked with the institute for years, she said, but was just recently made a member. "I guess they figured they couldn't get rid of me." And so, Tiegs is now one of 80 persons on the institute's stellar selection committee, which includes Lane Kirkland and Muhammad Ali, and whose charge it is to choose nine Americans each year upon whom to bestow the public service awards.
"I'm sure I was selected for my high intelligence," she added, smiling.
Back to the awards. Sen. Baker has just gotten his. It was officially bestowed upon him by John Seigenthaler of Gannett's soon-to-be-published national newspaper USA Today for: "The Greatest Public Service Performed by an Elected or Appointed Official."
As soon as he finished his "I Believe in America" speech, Baker headed for the Capitol through a convenient side exit.
Then, with a kiss from Tiegs, it was Hope's turn at the podium.
"When they first told me I'd gotten an award for public service," he started, "I thought it was because someone had totaled up all the taxes I've paid."
Roaring laughter . . . Applause.
And thus began Hope'sseries of one-liners that livened up the otherwise sober occasion.
"There's only one other award I wish I'd been considered for," he said, as the audience braced itself for the punch line. "That's the one for 'Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 or Under.' I missed it by a few years--and almost wound up in Claude Pepper's category service to older Americans ."
Of course, there were serious, even emotional moments. Like Caroline Putnam's acceptance speech. From Springfield, Mass., Putnam has solicited funding for Catholic Scholarships for Negroes, an organization she founded in 1946. Although she never attended college, she has helped hundreds of black youths to do so.
Waiting for the ovation to subside while accepting her award for community service, Putnam said, "The applause is lovely, but it's nothing compared to the rewards of the work I've done."
Then she shared an example. "One of my students, who has since graduated, sent me a donation along with a message: 'I can't thank you enough for what you did for my children when you educated me.' "
On the other side of the conference room sat a family beaming with pride over the success of Henry Cisneros, the first Hispanic mayor of a major U.S. city, San Antonio, Tex., and winner of the award for "Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 or Under."
"I've known him since he was a baby," said Irma Sandoval, who flew in from San Antonio with the family. "And I'm so emotional, you know. My God, didn't you see me in there?" Her eyes were still red and they were about to get redder. So she reached for a tissue.
"He works so hard," she said, wiping her eyes. "We always knew he'd be in politics, but never knew he'd get this far. He's beautiful. But then, of course, I'm prejudiced."