"This has not been an easy year for the United Nations," said Sanford McDonnell, chairman and chief executive officer of McDonnell Douglas Corp., from the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall stage Saturday night.

For $250 a ticket, the almost 1,000 guests--including a number of ambassadors and their spouses--gathered to commemorate the founding of the United Nations and pay tribute to the World Health Organization. The evening began with a concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and continued with a filet mignon dinner and dancing at the Washington Hilton.

While the turnout showed support for the United Nations, the remarks were not ones of unqualified approval.

Secretary of State George P. Shultz, in his address to the crowd, cited the year's problems in Lebanon, the Falklands, Poland, Afghanistan and Puerto Rico, saying, "We must marvel at the erosion of the United Nations' principles."

Asked at a VIP reception preceding the dinner how he would rate the United Nations' record, Shultz said, "I think it's better to just look at the content of the last year."

But as McDonnell told the crowd, "If we look back in the 37-year history of the organization, no year has been easy. Actually, the march toward realizing the principles laid down in the United Nations takes on the characteristics of the search for the Holy Grail."

Among the VIPs and seated in the first-tier box were U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; Kurt Waldheim, former secretary general of the United Nations; and Dr. Halfdan Mahler, director general of the World Health Organization.

McDonnell took the podium after Robert Anderson, chairman and chief executive officer of Rockwell International Corp., who has been the United States' U.N. Day chairman for two years. Said Anderson, in the only moment of levity during the evening's speechmaking, "I guess the president is going to keep asking me to do it until I get it right.