"There's a lot of power here tonight, a lot of big muscle," said Wayne Valis, a former White House aide who runs Valis Associates. "And they're here to pay tribute to Bryce."
He meant Bryce Harlow, a 44-year Washington veteran--lobbyist, congressional staffer and adviser to several presidents. It seemed like a family reunion.
But it was really a dinner for 500 corporate movers and shakers (at $100 a pop; more than 65 major firms represented) at the Capital Hilton. It was held to honor the second recipient of the Bryce Harlow Award.
The award recognizes an outstanding "government relations professional who epitomizes the significant role lobbyists play in Washington policy-making." Exactly who the second recipient was was kept a secret until after the pumpkin souffle' dessert.
William J. Baroody Sr., who for years served as president of the American Enterprise Institute and who died in 1980, was the honoree. Baroody's son, Michael, accepted the Steuben glass eagle and check for the educational institution of his choice (St. Anselm's).
But most of the evening was devoted to Harlow.
"All of us at the White House look to Bryce as a force we'd like to live up to," said Edwin Meese III, counselor to President Reagan. He skipped the cocktail party and arrived just in time for the salmon appetizer.
Bob Strauss, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made the dinner one of two events he attended last night.
"I'm at the head table at the DNC dinner and I excused myself to go to the bathroom," Strauss told the crowd, sending it into laughter and applause. "And to tell you the truth, I really had to go and I haven't gone yet. If it were for anyone but Bryce, I probably wouldn't have done it."
He then lauded Harlow's work in fostering a better understanding between business and government.
White House communications director David Gergen said the choice of Baroody for the award "showed wisdom." But then he went on to Harlow. "I am one of about 240 people who count Bryce Harlow as a mentor," said Gergen. "I knew him in the Nixon days and was one of several people he took under his wing. Taught us about the city, about values. He taught us how it ought to work in the best sense."
Or as Lee Hamilton, a senior vice president with the National Association of Manufacturers, put it: "Bryce Harlow is . . . a real intellectual, which is not true of all government relations people."