News & Politics

How to Make the Guest List for a State Dinner

Photograph via iStock.

Our expert: Ann Stock, White House social secretary during the Clinton administration.

“First of all, it’s a long shot. If you feel strongly that you’ve been working with the country [of the visiting head of state] and there’s a solid, issues-based reason to be there and you think somebody might not know that, then yes, by all means, I would make a phone call or send a letter.

“Don’t start a campaign. If you think you should be considered for that invitation, pick up the phone or send the social secretary a note. What you don’t want to do is call five people and have them make the case, so then the social secretary realizes, ‘This is now the fifth call I’ve gotten about this person.’

“Be honest. The social secretaries got together for lunch one time, and Bess Abell [social secretary under Lyndon Johnson] told a story about a gentleman who told her his wife was dying and because his wife was from the [visiting dignitary’s] country, it would mean the world. So she asked the President and First Lady, and they said, ‘Absolutely.’ And 40 years later, the wife is still alive.”

Read more advice, tips, and tricks from Washington natives in our Secrets of the City package.

This article appears in our January 2016 issue of Washingtonian.