News & Politics

A Who’s Who of Washington Women Gather For Annual “Friendship” Luncheon (Photos)

In its 20th year, the festive event draws women from all fields.

The luncheon entertainment was Sephira, violinists and singers Joyce and Ruth O'Leary. All photographs by Carol Ross Joynt.

Debbie Dingell and a group of friends Monday hosted their 20th annual holiday “Friendship” luncheon in the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton West End hotel. Simply put, it was the kind of power gathering where, if you didn’t make the guest list, you might want to devise a clever cover story: that you were out of town, or, better still, you had a lunch at the White House.

The hosts of the little bash included, besides Dingell, Grace Bender, Wilma Bernstein, Samia Farouki, Catherine Reynolds, and Marlene Malek. Among them, they know everyone in the DC name-dropping realm.

The plaid and lace invitation—the luncheon’s theme was Irish Christmas—read at the very top, “to end the year with girlfriends so dear.” There was not one man at any of the 20 or so tables.

The idea for the luncheon, according to Dingell, began with the premise that if you get people together and they become acquainted they can’t “demonize” each other. “This luncheon is more important than ever,” she said. “If you look at the United States Senate, women know how to work together. The people in this room are the people who make this town go. The friendships we have are the foundation of what makes our lives good.” Each of the other hosts spoke, also, reciting sayings and proverbs that relate to friendship.

The menu was not uber feminine: roasted beet salad and Guinness-braised short ribs were followed by an Irish coffee dessert. The entertainment, two Irish sisters, Joyce and Ruth O’Leary, both violinists and singers with the stage name Sephira, done up in red sequins and tulle, performed holiday music as well as tunes from Shrek and Pulp Fiction. The swag was holiday treats from Georgetown Cupcake.

There were 250 women invited, and most showed. A scan of the room afforded the following, incomplete roster of guests:

Laura Bisogniero, Lila Sullivan, Jan Smith, Susan Pillsbury, Chris Downey, Kimball Stroud, Wilma Bernstein, Lynda Johnson Robb, Adrienne Arsht Alyse Nelson, Ann Kenkel, Andrea Roane, Evelyn Dibona, Katharine Weymouth, Sissy Yates, Gabrielle Bekink, Doris Matsui, Heather Podesta, Melissa Moss, Willee Lewis, Ann Hand, Lee Satterfield, Melanne Verveer, Jennifer Maguire, Ilyse Hogue, Sally Quinn, Isabel Ernst, Betty Ann Tanner, Didi Cutler, Robin Strongin, Sophie Delattre, Judy Esfandiary, Mary Haft, Betty Hudson, Nancy Zirkin, Meryl Chertoff, Donna McLarty, Elsa Walsh, Nancy Brinker, Alma Gildenhorn, Jane Harman, Debbie Sigmund, Carol Browner, Donna Brazile, Rachel Pearson, Terri Ferriello, Trish Vradenburg, Ginger Pape, Lorraine Wallace, Eden Rafshoon, Veronica Valencia, Susanna Quinn, Lorraine Wallace, Ann Stock, Susan Blumenthal, Capricia Marshall, and Barbara Cochran.

On stage at the “Friendship” luncheon, co-hosts Marlene Malek, Catherine Reynolds, Wilma Bernstein and Grace Bender.
Philanthropist Catherine Reynolds shows a sign of friendship at the “Friendship” luncheon she co-hosted.
The table settings and menu for the 20th annual “Friendship” holiday luncheon at the Ritz Carlton West End hotel.