PALM BEACH, Fla. — You thought Washington’s old guard rode out the winter doldrums huddled by their fireplaces? Ha! Those with enough time, connections and money bide time until D.C.’s spring galas in the exclusive, clubby swirl of Palm Beach.
The high point of the season was Friday’s International Red Cross Ball, a white-tie-and-fancy-medals benefit. For the second year in a row, D.C.’s Mary Ourisman, former ambassador to Barbados and Republican fundraiser, chaired the event and drew a healthy team of Beltway friends to the party. Not that many had far to travel.
“It’s a great cause and a lot of fun,” said superlawyer Bob Bennett, who spends about six weeks in Palm Beach every year — and always attends the ball. “This is the big social event down here.”
Ourisman and her husband Mandy sold their place in Jamaica a few years ago and settled on the Florida enclave as their winter home because she had a lot of D.C. pals already down there: Mel and Suellen Estrin, Stuart and Wilma Bernstein , Nancy Brinker, and Susan Lehrman to name a few. “I think it’s so easy here,” Ourisman told us. “Many of us go back and forth.” And the pace is just right — plenty to do without the late-night scene of, say, Miami. “Most of us here are past that in our life.”
But they still make time to party at the Red Cross Ball, which was founded in 1956 by heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. This year, Ourisman pushed back the date by two weeks to avoid a conflict with another old-guard bash, D.C.’s annual Alfalfa dinner. And much to the relief of Palm Beach’s old guard, she moved the party from Donald Trump’s Mar- A-Lago estate— the site for the past eight years — back to the traditional venue, the grand old hotel known as the Breakers.
Hmmm, any particular reason why? “It had really become more about Donald Trump than the Red Cross,” explained Ourisman. Trump did not attend this year, which opened the door for Post’s daughter, actress Dina Merrill, to return as a guest. Seems there’s no love lost between those two.
The New Yorkers were stuck at home by the blizzard, but plenty of D.C. names (mostly Republicans) made it: Former senators Fred Thompson, Norm Coleman and Mel Martinez ; House Foreign Affairs chairman Rep. Ed Royce; American Red Cross Chairman Bonnie McElveen Hunter; Anita McBride, Channel 4 anchor B arbara Harrison, Mary Mochary; John Damgard; Aniko Schott; and ambassadors from Indonesia, Portugal, Singapore, Morocco, Iceland and the Netherlands. Oh, and Peter Duchin and his orchestra. The night raised $800,000 and everyone was home by 11 p.m.
Yup, just your standard winter night in Palm Beach.
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