Mike McCurry, center, flanked by current and former White House social secretaries: Maria Downs, Jeremy Bernard, Lea Berman, Capricia Marshall, Bess Abell, and Muffie Brandon Cabot. (White House Historical Association )

“It’s about being welcomed and being nice” he said Tuesday at a talk hosted by the White House Historical Association and Smithsonian Associates. Bernard told the crowd that he’s determined to replicate his first visit to the executive mansion for every person who comes through the door: “They don’t walk in as a Democrat or Republican. They walk in as your guest and guests of president and first lady.”

The first man in this elite sorority joined five of his predecessors — Bess Abell, Maria Downs, Muffie Brandon, Capricia Marshall and Lea Berman — for a panel discussion at Decatur House moderated by former White House press secretary Mike McCurry. who asked each to share a favorite state dinner moment. Best gaffe? When the Marine Band struck up “The Lady is a Tramp” for President Ford’s 1976 dance with Queen Elizabeth. Downs, who had the job at the time, somehow kept it. (Sorry, no one mentioned the Salahis , and Desiree Rogers wasn’t on the panel.)

Bernard’s tenure has been drama-free so far: He oversaw last year’s dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Rose Garden and, despite ominous weather reports, made the risky call to hold the event outdoors without a tent. As Bernard recalled, President Obama told the first lady, “You guys really took a chance.” She told him, “we had a back-up plan” — but, in fact, there was no back-up, admitted Bernard. He would have resigned if the rain ruined the dinner, he said; luckily it held off until after the party.

More stories: You wouldn’t believe how many guests allegedly walk off with towels and place card holders! And Berman made a plea for civility in these increasingly partisan times: “If you get invited to the White House and despise whoever the president happens to be — just go anyway.”

Read earlier: Jeremy Bernard is first male, gay social secretary for White House, 2/26/11

See also: The White House Historical Association’s archive on White House social secretaries

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