... Next to the Secretary, you are probably the most important person at State. Without you to preside over the 8th Floor Dining Room tempers would undoubtedly fray and war would surely break out.

Of course, I hold you personally responsible for the 30 pounds I put on during my term of office. But I am willing to overlook that because there are very few things on which present and former Secretaries of State are in total agreement. Our affection and regard for you is one of them. ... -- {signed} Henry Kissinger

"They also serve who only stand and wait" can truly be said of Washington's maitres d', butlers and waiters. They stand in the background of great events. And they wait on those who move multitudes and shake continents. Theirs are the faces in the shadow of news photographs, the hands whose bodies are cut out of the picture.

In such a career, maitre d' Cesare Sclarandis stood at the pinnacle. In his 53-year career, he learned to be in the right place at the right time, speak five languages, master at least five elaborate table services, recognize -- and please -- crowned heads and elected officials, and suppress secrets and opinions.

Dean Rusk, secretary of state during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, who hired Sclarandis in 1962 to serve the secretary and his principal guests, once wrote the best description of Sclarandis's service:

Big things are made up out of a lot of little things and unless the little things go just right, the big things may not succeed. Your dedicated service ... has made a genuine contribution to the leadership of the Department of State, and we are all grateful for the efficiency, courtesy and good cheer which you have always shown.

At 78, 38 years after he and his wife, Ida, immigrated to Washington, the Italian-born Sclarandis has reached the time of life when he can sit with his wife at their dining room table with espresso and panettone -- and put together his scrapbooks of photographs and letters. He's started a spiral-bound notebook with the title "A Lifetime of Service." You could call it "What the Maitre d' Knew."

Sclarandis has counted the great ones he has served at castles and chateaus in his native Italy, Bulgaria and Switzerland, at the State Department in Foggy Bottom, in private houses on the Potomac and in embassies on 16thStreet. If he hasn't forgotten anyone, the total is 24 kings and queens; 36 presidents of foreign countries, plus six presidents of Italy and eight of the United States; and seven U.S. secretaries of state. An Italian president honored him with a medal.

On Henry Kissinger "Everybody was scared of Secretary Kissinger," said Sclarandis. "He gave us a hard time, because he wanted to eat what he wanted, but his doctor insisted we serve him a strict no-cholesterol diet."

Once, despite Kissinger's orders for real eggs, Sclarandis was constrained by the medical dictum to serve him the imitation variety at a breakfast for Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin. Kissinger got even by telling Dobrynin -- for whom Sclarandis sometimes moonlighted -- that Sclarandis was a spy.

When Sclarandis served Elizabeth Taylor at lunch with Kissinger, the secretary warned him that the presence of his guest was a state secret and Sclarandis was under oath not to tell. "And then he told everybody else in the department about his guest," said the waiter. "And accused me of not letting him be alone with her." Gina Lollobrigida (whose Italian looks Sclarandis preferred) was also invited to lunch at State in 1977 -- but she arrived an hour late, and Kissinger had his lunch without her.

On King Faisal

The only dignitary to bring his own dinner was the late Saudi king. Faisal visited the State Department several times on Sclarandis's watch, and "ate only the meals prepared by his own cooks, who came with a small electric stove and prepared his food on a console next to the head table."

On John F. Kennedy

One Washington maxim warns: Be polite to a congressman because he may be elected president.

Sclarandis first met John F. Kennedy, a young bachelor congressman, in 1952, when hostess Marie Beale summoned Kennedy to a black-tie dinner with 20 other members of Congress at Decatur House, where Sclarandis was a butler. Such an invitation in those days had the power of a royal command. Mrs. Beale was a legend: Presidents had come and gone from the White House down the street, but Beale stayed on in the last private residence on Lafayette Square, at the corner of Jackson Place and H Street.

The day, the hour, the minute came, and the party was preparing to go in to dinner -- but no Kennedy. Sclarandis was ordered by the mistress of the house to telephone the congressman. Feet up at home, Kennedy confessed he'd written down the wrong date, but he'd be right over.

"When Kennedy arrived -- in a brown business suit and red tie -- the dinner was half over," said Sclarandis. Mrs. Beale gave Kennedy a public scolding for being late and not changing his clothes. "He blushed," remembered Sclarandis.

On another occasion, Sclarandis was hired for a day to serve at Merrywood, the Potomac Palisades estate of Hugh Auchincloss, stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier. Kennedy was the first to arrive, and he asked for a Bloody Mary. At Decatur House doubtless no one had ever asked Sclarandis for anything stronger than sherry. "Kennedy realized quickly that I didn't know how to mix that drink, so he showed me."

The Kennedy recipe, still followed by Sclarandis: a squeeze of lemon, two drops of Worcestershire sauce, two drops of angostura bitters and two ounces of vodka, topped with tomato juice.

The last time Sclarandis saw Kennedy was at the Bolivian Embassy on Oct. 22, 1963, at a luncheon in his honor, given by the Bolivian president. "I remember President Kennedy used a special chair to ease his back pain. The Secret Service gave me a bottle of special water to open only after the president was seated at the table. He drank the full quart."

A month later, Sclarandis was serving lunch at the Chilean Embassy for the president of Chile, 28 ambassadors and Sen. Hubert Humphrey. "I was given a message for Humphrey that the White House was calling. He took the call in the pantry and came back to tell us that the president had been shot and was in the hospital, with no explanation of his condition. Fifteen minutes later, the White House called Humphrey again. And he gravely announced to us that the president was dead."

Most of the leaders of the world came to the Kennedy funeral and afterward to a buffet meal at the State Department. Not all of them, by Sclarandis's standards, conducted themselves as such dignitaries should. "The last personage to come to the eighth-floor dining room was General de Gaulle, accompanied by Secretary Rusk. When {Rusk} tried to escort him to the French Embassy's table, de Gaulle refused, saying, 'I have no time.' Rusk asked de Gaulle to stay at least five minutes, but he repeated, he had no time. He made himself a little sandwich of turkey breast and then left the room."

But de Gaulle's undiplomatic manners were punished, Sclarandis recalls, when Rusk courteously escorted de Gaulle to the Citroen that the Frenchman had specified in place of an American limousine. "When the tall general tried to get in the Citroen, he had to do almost acrobatic maneuvers to fold in his long body. His military cap fell off, and the people watching laughed."

On the Soviets

In 1973, at the signing of a treaty with the Soviets, Sclarandis served champagne to President Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev. Brezhnev shook his glass and spilled the champagne. "Later, Secretary {of State} William Rogers told me that Brezhnev was just being funny and he had done the same thing in Moscow -- and he'd pushed the waiters and made them spill the beverages." Sclarandis was horrified.

Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, Alexander Haig, bumped into Sclarandis himself, when the maitre d' was serving a Campari soda to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands -- and Sclarandis spilled the drink. They laughed and told him not to worry. "For them it was a funny thing, but I was very humiliated."

On Dean Rusk

In 1964, a diplomatic dinner began for Rusk in a receiving line at 7:30 p.m. in the State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms. The dinner ended but the dean of the diplomatic corps, Nicaraguan Ambassador Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa, delivered an after-dinner speech; such speeches by the ambassador were famous for their length. The Swedish ambassador went to sleep. The antique clock in the hall marked 1:30 a.m. by the time Rusk, as protocol prescribes, could finally escort Sevilla-Sacasa and his wife to the elevator. "Secretary Rusk came back to the dining room, where the waiters, without their jackets, were taking down the table," recalled Sclarandis. "By then it was 2 a.m." But the secretary called the photographer and had him take a picture of himself with the waiters -- to express his gratitude for their long day. It still seems to worry Sclarandis a bit that Rusk was in black tie and the waiters didn't have time to put their coats back on.

On George Shultz

Though Sclarandis has double discretion, as a butler and a State Department employee, it's easy to suspect that George Shultz, the last secretary of state whom Sclarandis served, is his favorite. In 1984, at the 75th-birthday dinner for Dean Rusk at the State Department, Shultz honored Rusk, among other things, for being the first secretary of state to be served by Sclarandis.

When the waiter temporarily left the department that same year to have a cataract operation, Shultz asked all the secretaries Sclarandis had served in his 22 years to write him. And they did.

A Lifetime of Discretion

Sclarandis was born in the Italian Piedmont. His father was a tailor. The son worked from the age of 9 until he was 20 as a farmer. (In Washington, he's always had a vegetable garden. No doubt, part of his popularity comes from his discreet gifts of fresh vegetables to important desks and ritzy addresses.)

When he was 20, he was hired to be a member of the household staff of a daughter of the king of Italy; from there, he became a butler in the Italian Embassy in Bulgaria. During World War II, his ambassador, seeing Italy's defeat coming, left for Switzerland, and convinced Sclarandis of the wisdom of coming with him.

Many the titled Italians were refugees there. Every week, Sclarandis, with the Italian Embassy's gasoline allotment, would drive the limousine around to collect the nobility to play cards at the ambassador's residence. One of the players was Allen Dulles, who became CIA director. Dulles befriended Sclarandis and found him a job with the U.S. ambassador, who was on his way back to Washington.

Shortly after they arrived in 1952, the ambassador's ill health caused the curtailment of their entertaining and his wife found jobs with Marie Beale for Sclarandis and his wife, Ida, whom Sclarandis had met and married when he was living in Switzerland. "My wife had the worst job as Mrs. Beale's personal maid," said Sclarandis. "She worked 18 hours a day."

At one of the Beale dinners for 22 -- with guests including presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson -- the ceiling fell in on the dining table. Only one guest, a diplomatic wife, was slightly injured. But Beale's sensibilities were hard hit, and she packed up the household and moved to Europe until all was repaired.

After her death -- she'd left instructions with Sclarandis as to who was not to be invited to her funeral -- the couple and their family stayed on as caretakers and curators of the house, bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. And in the 1960s, Sclarandis, in his early fifties, began his State Department career, first part-time and then full-time, though he always served at embassies and private houses as well. He'd be at State still, had not his Mercedes-Benz been struck by a speeding bus in Rock Creek Park five years ago, resulting in injuries that ended his career. The first flowers he received came from the Shultzes.

Today, Cesare and Ida Sclarandis live in Arlington. Thanks, in part, to their real estate investments, he's provided houses for his two sons, two daughters and his 17 grandchildren. Next month, they go to Italy for a few weeks to visit his relatives.

It all proves that if you work hard, are good at what you do and are a friend to fortune, then you can say, as Cesare Sclarandis once wrote to George Shultz: "I tried to do my best job and was more than rewarded by all the leaders whom I have been fortunate to serve."