Call it a party for the Foreign Student Service Council. But it was more like a gathering of the James Symington fan club.
In the Winter Garden Room last night at the Embassy Row Hotel, about 110 guests met to fete the FSSC, a nonprofit organization designed to assist students from other countries.
Chairman James Symington, former marine, former Yalie and former congressman, was the evening's host, as well as the after-dinner songster.
"And there's Ethel Kennedy," Symington said, spinning on his heel from one guest to stick out a hand to another. "Hello! So good to see you! You look fantastic!"
"Dazzling, eh?" joked Kennedy, draped in a white sparkling gown and silver shoes.
Over cocktails, old Washington friends chatted, mostly about their friend "Jimmy."
"I've known the Symingtons for ages," said Cathy Douglas, wife of the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. "My husband was president of the FSSC years ago, oh, probably in the early '60s, before I came to Washington. I have lots of reasons for being here. Plus all my friends," she said, catching sight of a familiar face.
Before being called to the candlelight dinner that followed, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) leaned against the bar talking to Ethel Kennedy, while former senator William Fulbright and Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders talked in the crowd, which seemed to not move far from the entrance of the room.
Alejandro Orfila, secretary general of the Organization of American States, also talked about his good friend Jimmy Symington.
"He's a warm man. He projects a warmth," Orfila said. "And the fact that he sings and plays the guitar makes him more attractive."
Spanish Ambassador Nuno Aguirre told Symington that Symington's wife, Sylvia, had accepted their dinner invitation for March 4, the night opera tenor Placido Domingo would be at the ambassador's home for dinner. Jonathan Sloat, United States Information Agency general counsel, and Swedish Ambassador Wilhelm Wachtmeister joined the crowd that soon shuffled into a separate room for dinner.
Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who had come from a fund-raiser for Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale, took a seat at one of the tables and talked about attending the earlier, informal party in his tuxedo. "Mondale asked me if I was going to wait tables somewhere tonight."
After the fish appetizer, another guest asked Simon about Rep. Harold Washington's victory in the Chicago mayoral Democratic primary. "I think the election of Washington will mean a dispersal of power," Simon said, choosing his words with care, "and I think that will be healthy."
Three courses later, including a raspberry dessert housed in an ice creation lighted by a green phosphorescent stick (which one guest tried to eat), Symington thanked the many guests, including Orfila.
"Of course, his lovely wife Helga couldn't make it because she was caught in California," Symington said. "They're probably trying to get her into the movies."