Last week, as it surged through the news cycle, the reports about the Petraeus scandal
included frequent mention of the word “socialite.” It was used in reference to
Jill Kelley, the Tampa, Florida, hostess who entertained the brass from the Joint Special Operations
Command, including former CIA director
David Petraeus and General
John Allen, now head of the military command in Afghanistan. The tide of public opinion turned
against Kelley as details came out about her and the picture emerged of someone who
seemed made for reality TV, but not necessarily a socialite.
Socialite is a peculiar word. What does it mean in the modern era, and is it negative
or positive? Does it matter? The dictionary says it is a person who is well known
in “fashionable society” and is fond of social activities. Is it about money, position,
pedigree, connections, charity, education, home address, party calendar—or all of
the above? It’s applied most often to women, but as we evolve as a culture, the term
has begun to feel irrelevant. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton has money, position, pedigree, education, and connections, her calendar is packed
with official social events, and she is well known in fashionable society, but would
anyone call her a socialite? Of course not.
When Tareq and Michaele Salahi became household names because of their White House
“gatecrashing” antics, the first flush of news reports referred to them as socialites,
before “scammers” became the popular term. They were many things, but not well known
in fashionable society. Or maybe they represent the version of “socialite” that was
applied to Kelley.
All this brings us to Friday night and a cocktail party in Georgetown that probably
gives the best possible glimpse at a group of individuals who could be viewed as authentic
Washington “socialites” (in a positive way).
Bill and Ann Nitze hosted the party. He is on the board of the Aspen Institute and is chairman of an
energy systems company called Gridpoint. She is a dealer of fine art, went to school
at Miss Porter’s, Radcliffe, and in Paris, and likes to entertain. The cocktail party
Manuel Johnson and
Jacqueline B. Mars, chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Sporting Library & Museum in
Middleburg, Virginia, where Mars lives. Mars owns the Mars candy company with her
brothers, gives generously, especially to the arts, and, according to
Forbes, is worth $17
Even though she lives in Middleburg, where she raises show
horses, Mars appears a
lot at Washington events, particularly at the Kennedy Center.
The party was to introduce some of the Nitze’s Washington friends to the library and
museum, which were founded in 1954 by some other very well-off Middleburg residents,
George L. Ohrstrom Sr. and Alexander Mackay-Smith, and today has a board that represents
the area’s elite. In the last few years the NSLM was substantially renovated and expanded
and has become quite the attraction for visitors to the hunt country as well as scholars
doing research about sporting life and art. Johnson said as much when he described
the institution as providing “a nice afternoon or weekend in Middleburg.” Comparing
it to the Phillips Collection, he called it a place “Washingtonians can be proud of.
We have the best rare book sporting library in the world.”
While Johnson made the remarks it was Mars, in bright red, who was the center of attention.
Ready to greet her was a parade of Washingtonians, who by strict definition could
be called “socialites” though in truth they have careers, own companies, and have
projects and causes. They included
Mandy and Mary Ourisman,
Alexandra de Borchgrave,
Aniko Gaal Schott,
Finlay and Willee Lewis,
Lynda and William Webster,
Bruce Larson and
Senator John Warner,
Donald Brennan, and
Kevin Chaffee. In addition to Johnson and Mars, in from the Middleburg area were
Rick Stoutamyer, and
Dana and Turner Reuter, who own the Red Fox Inn and Red Fox Fine Art. Turner, author of
Animal and Sporting Artists in America, was instrumental in the renovation of the library and museum.
If it’s true that Jill Kelley occasionally attended social events in Washington, which
has been reported, then she was effectively off the radar. Willee Lewis, who is a
veteran of DC social life and seems to know everyone, said she’d never met her. We
asked Ann Nitze, who also gets around in society, if she ever met Kelley and whether
she considered Kelley a “socialite.” Her response was to the point: Nitze was emphatically