News & Politics

Remembering Richard Holbrooke at an A-List Georgetown Book Party

Washington’s power players—including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—come together to celebrate the legacy of the late diplomat and political adviser.

Martin Indyk, Gahl Burt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Jake Indyk, remembering Richard Holbrooke. Photograph by James R. Brantley.

Slideshow: Photos From the Book Party 

It’s interesting to watch Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrive at a party. She slips in quietly. There’s no bombast. But suddenly the gravitational pull of the room shifts subtly in her direction. There’s a frisson, a buzz; you see the top of her head, the flip in her long blond hair; you see people move toward her but also make way. She has a wide, warm smile for friends, and it was mostly friends Tuesday evening at an A-list book party at the Georgetown home of Gahl Burt. Clinton dropped by on her way to the Capitol for the State of the Union.

The party was for Derek Chollet and Samantha Power’s new book, The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World—but it was, most of all, a gathering of his nearest and dearest, which means diverse Washington power players, many of them as complicated and beguiling as Holbrooke himself. Clinton, of course, but also Power, who co-edited the book. Power is now a special assistant to President Barack Obama, though during the last election she resigned from her adviser position after calling candidate Hillary Clinton a “monster,” a comment she thought was off the record.

But on Tuesday, there they were, in an elegant candlelit living room together, with Power having arrived mid-sentence as Clinton praised Holbrooke, who died in December 2010 after suddenly falling ill at his State Department office. The diagnosis was a torn aorta, which many of his friends attributed to working at epic full tilt on his principal responsibility: US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, advising both Obama and Clinton. Secretary Clinton said that “the day to day with him was not always easy,” but lauded the book “for helping us keep in mind who he was.” When the remarks were done, Clinton moved smoothly to another part of the room, having no apparent interaction with Power.

Many at the event were friends and colleagues who contributed essays to the book, which was overseen by Holbrooke’s widow, Kati Marton, who called the project a “labor of love” that helped her work through her grief. It also includes a number of Holbrooke’s own writings. Marton said she’s working on her next book, Paris: A Love Story, a memoir of their love affair, which began in the City of Light in the early ’90s when both were on separate holidays and happened to connect. At the time Holbrooke was the US ambassador to Germany, just one of his many notable posts in a long diplomatic career.

It was during his term in Germany that Rosemarie Pauli first came under the employ of Holbrooke. She worked closely with him at the State Department and was with him when he collapsed. At the party she recalled how when she first reported to work in Bonn, her new boss was difficult and obstinate, and tried to scare her away—in many ways, classic Holbrooke. That, she said, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Today she is assistant chief of protocol, working with Capricia Marshall, the chief of protocol.

Power and Chollet preface the book by noting, “Richard Holbrooke loved history.” They also say that after his death his friends went wild with stories about him, sharing them via e-mail, on websites, and over dinner: “Lacking the ability to talk or write to Holbrooke, we consoled ourselves by talking and writing about Holbrooke.” These stories are woven throughout the book. Marton said to her husband’s friends, “Thank you for remembering my husband, and please keep telling those stories, because he loved you all.”

Gahl Burt, who was social secretary during the Reagan administration, welcomed her guests as she stood with Clinton by the fireplace. Of Holbrooke, she said, “As I read the book, there were things about him I learned in death that I wish I’d known in life.” Burt introduced former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who then introduced Clinton. Also in the room was Obama’s social secretary, Jeremy Bernard, who said he’s called on Burt for advice but Burt graciously said she didn’t think he needed any. Sophie Delattre, the wife of the French ambassador, who has not been seen out much, quickly entered into animated conversation with many of the other guests, especially Abeer Al Otaiba, wife of the United Arab Emirates ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba.

Others at the party: White House press secretary Jay Carney; Gary Smith, executive director of the American Academy in Berlin, which Holbrooke founded; Elizabeth Bumiller, Ann Jordan, Leon Wieseltier, Walter Pincus, Polly Kraft, Liz and George Stevens, Kay Kendall, David Bradley, Carolyn Peachey, Kate Lehrer, Judy Woodruff, Jane Harman, Norm Pearlstine, Barbara Balaj, and Tom Farmer.