The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For the city’s social secretaries, a cocktail party is a ‘busman’s holiday’

Deesha Dyer, White House social secretary; Asdis Hreinsdottir, social secretary to the Embassy of Iceland; and Lone Hjortbak Kanaskie, social secretary to the Embassy of Denmark. (Joyce Boghosian)

What does a group of professional socializers do on a night off? They get together for a party of their own, naturally.

On Thursday, social secretaries and protocol gurus from the city’s embassies, the White House and the State Department met at the Meridian International Center for the kind of cocktails-and-catching up session they usually plan for someone else.

“It’s a busman’s holiday, really,” said Ann Stock, a former White House social secretary in the Clinton administration, of what has become an annual ritual. “It’s just good to get together and gossip!”

So … were state secrets spilled over the ginger-spiked agua frescas and mini tacos? Alas, the chatter was mostly about family vacations, the soaring temperatures and soccer matches. Here, they are among the folks who really get what they do — that their jobs aren’t just about picking china patterns and seeing that the canapes are garnished to perfection.

“You create the kind of interconnections in Washington that are so important,” said Meridian President Stuart Holliday to a crowd that included Vice President Biden’s social secretary Carlos Elizondo, the State Department’s deputy chief of protocol Nick Schmidt, and embassy secretaries from across the globe, from Japan to Iceland. “The job of a social secretary is sometimes … misunderstood — you are the forefront of diplomacy.”

Next up was White House social secretary Deesha Dyer. At last year’s party, she was just a few weeks into the new gig and read carefully from prepared remarks — but with a year of managing the social life of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. under her belt, she was looser and more confident. (Apparently, that’s what surviving a hectic state dinner or two will do.)

“‘We bring people together — people of all different kinds of religions and races and backgrounds and foreign countries,” she said, calling the fellowship of social secretaries an “incredible support network.” “I hope I’ve done a good job for the president and first lady and for the country.”