It was black tie and $500 a plate. It was a chance for the investors in political futures to stand in Pools of limelight with the stewards of fame and fading memories. It was, first and finally, a way for Charles S. Robb to pay off a $225,000 campaign debt.
"A Virginia Tribute Honoring the Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth," was the way it was billed, and it took place Saturday night at Robb's home among the mansions of McLean, overlooking the Potomac River.
Over 200 lawyers, wives, politicians and lobbysists from most of the state's major industries were there, along with a small constellation of "special guests" to help Robb pay off a loan costing $50 a day interest alone.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D. Mass.) was there, and Redskin quarterback Billy Kilmer, and House Majority Leader James C. Wright (Jr.), along with Rep. Jack Brooks (D. Tex.), the President's cousing Hugh Carter, Rep. J.J. (Jake) Pickle (D. Tex.) and a raft of local congressmen and politicians.
It was not, however, the glatter of celebrities that brought most of the guests to the fund raiser that night, contended L. Ray Ashworth, a General Assembly delegate from Wakefield who helped to organize the event. "Hell, we're so country we think we're the celebrities."
There were others, however, partaking of the "boneless breast of Rockingham County chicken fried brown with curls of Surry Country ham in champagne sauce" that were somewhat more impressed with the company they were keeping.
"I squeezed Teddy, said a woman from Winchester, hometown of the conservative political machine that once controlled state and Democratic Party politics when they were one and the same. "My daddy would roll over in his grave if he knew, but I'd go over the bridge with Teddy kennedy anytime. Iwouldn't vote for him, but I'd go over the bridge with him; he's just the cutest little thing."
While the business of power and politics and money has always been taken very seriously in Virginia, it has been only recently that it has included a flirtation with the glamorous and the illusions they trail behind them.
Last year's race for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general saw the first of the star wars, with the Republicans serving up senatorial hopeful John Warner's wife Elizabeth Taylor while the Democrats countered with Robb's wife Lynda Bird, her mother, Lady Bird Johnson, and those of the faithful who can still be counted on to keep alive the memory of her late husband, Lyndon Johnson.
It was loyalty to the Johnson family that brouhgt jack Brooks to the party while Kilmer said he came out of gratitude for Robb's appearance at a recent cerebral Palsy benefit. Kilmer's daughter, Kathy, was born with the disease. "He was so gracious," Kilmer said, "that I asked if there was anything I could do to help."
Mixing with the famous as smoothly as whiskey does with soda were the legions of lobbyists, the men who represent the bottlers and the builders, the coal companies, the power company, the savings and loan associationsand the pulp and paper companies.
"You're looking at a lot of members of the General Assembly here," said one representative of the coal industry. "And what could be the next governor of the state. All in all," he said dryly, "it is not a bad idea to be here."
All in all, said one delegate to the General Assembly, "you'd see a lot of the same people at a dinner for Marshall Coleman (state attorney general and the man most often mentioned as Robb's Republican opponent for the governorship in 1981.) These people aren't stupid. They know how to keep their bases covered."
"Me, I'm just a poor, one-eyed country lawyer," said Ernest Howard Williams Jr., known as Judge Williams to his friends though he is only, he says, a judge of "fine whiskey and pretty women." He is also known as the dean of General Assembly lobbyists, representing the trucking industry in a state that is as committed to highways as people are to breathing.
"My business is knowing people," said Judge Williams, "and I'm just here to be with my friends." He brushed off the price of admission with an arched eyebrow and a shrug of his ruffled shirt. "You mean the $500? Honey chile, $500 don't mean a thing."
Williams prepared to drive back to Richmond, the place most people at the party meant when they mentioned the capital, as a concert painist played in the living room and Raggedy Grass, an amateur bluegrass band composed of "five lawyers and an economist," played valiantly in a tent at the other end of the house.
"This is the first time we've ever been invited to anything important," said a wide-eyed woman who had just hugged Kilmer "not once but three times. And my husband doesn't even become vice president (of his savings and loan association) until June."
By 10:30, the big house began to empty as Del. Al Smith (D.-Frederick) quietly passed the word that it was time to leave. "Oh, it's been just wonderful," said Ruth Sanders of Newport News. "Anybody who would open up their house like this has just got to be a darling. Why I've seen everything but the garage and I could have seen that if I wanted to.I always did like the Johnsons." CAPTION: Picture 1, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) at left chats with Virginia Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb during fund-raiser held at Robb's McLean residence. By Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Brooks (D-Tex.) chats at the $500-a-plate fund raiser for Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb. Anne Hatfield; Hugh Carter, the president's cousin; Ted Britt, and Rep Jack, By Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post