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Alma Powell celebrated at ladies’ lunch for 50th wedding anniversary, 75th birthday

The ladies’ lunch: It’s not just for women and it’s not always lunch. But the custom of a leisurely gathering in the middle of the day — usually for a tribute or good cause — lives on in the rarefied circles of Washington society.

Thursday at the Hay Adams was textbook: A small luncheon with 40 A-list girlfriends honoring Alma Powell. It was a belated celebration, explained hostess Janet Langhart Cohen, of two milestones last fall: Powell’s 50th wedding anniversary to Colin Powell, and her 75th birthday. But really, the lunch was just an excuse for her friends to say lovely things about the woman they’ve known and admired for decades.

“I didn’t know whether this was going to be a roast,” Powell told her pals. “But it turns out to be ‘Queen for a Day.’”

A day is quite enough, thanks very much. Naturally private, Powell quietly vetoed any notions of her husband running for president and typically shuns the spotlight. “It’s easier to get things done that way,” she told us. She agreed to this party in order to highlight the work with America’s Promise Alliance, the educational program she chairs; each guest was asked to donate books for pre-schoolers for the “Reach Out and Read” drive.

But the lunch turned into something like a Quaker meeting, but with very expensive flowers and cute goodie bags — a succession of heartfelt testimonials to Powell’s virtues. Cohen, wife of former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen, called her a role model; D.C.’s “other Alma ” (Gildenhorn) said she was smart, intuitive, and witty; Barbara Harrison cited her spirituality. Catherine Reynolds praised her as a “true Southern lady” and Jan Donaldson noted she was “a women who speaks her mind — and importantly, she has one.”

Her husband sent along a message: Someone should mention his wife is a wonderful grandmother. We also learned a few random, unexpected tidbits: she loves dollhouses, sewing, crossword puzzles, peanuts — and that she once dated Johnny Mathis. (Alma, tell us more!)

The guest of honor was pleased but unruffled by all the gushing. “It’s lovely to hear,” she told us. “But it’s not going to my head.”

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