For 20 years, “Coach” Kathy Kemper has attracted Washington’s top office-holders to monthly “INFO” breakfasts.
By Mort Kondracke
In December at the Belgian ambassador’s residence, more than 100 past “INFO” speakers and attendees—including 19 other ambassadors – helped Coach Kemper celebrate the institution’s anniversary with dinner, a fundraising auction and Kemper’s recollection of INFO highlights.
Kemper, a former professional tennis player, is called “Coach” because she was that for five administrations in our nation’s capitol as well as head coach for Georgetown University women’s team. She still remains a sought after instructor to Washington’s political elites.
As she recalled, INFO got started when her husband, Jim Valentine, suggested she ask her powerful tennis pupils to speak to his colleagues about the issues facing America and the world.
Among the highlights of hundreds of breakfasts and salons since: eight State of the City addresses by DC Mayor Anthony Williams, former National Symphony Conductor Leonard Slatkin leading a throng in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to observe the return of baseball to DC, a West Wing tour by former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and a talks with Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O’Connor, Samuel Alito and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This year, an evening INFO salon with Sen. Tom Udall spontaneously morphed into explanations by the Japanese and Egyptian ambassadors on the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Arab Spring.
“INFO” is an educational happening — and it happens to be just one activity of Kemper’s Institute for Education. Others include Roundtable discussion series on information technology, emerging markets and “next generation” concerns; a Youth Global Citizen international education/study mission program for DC public and private school students and teachers, Learn/Serve Egypt for students and Discover China for journalists.
In these fractious times, Kemper has been using IFE to foster political civility. She gives an award for it every year (and another for community leadership). And IFE formerly hosted the first-ever annual regional leaders summits between DC’s mayor and the governors of Virginia and Maryland.
At December’s glittering anniversary dinner, Kemper recalled one other past highlight—the occasion when Secretary of State (then-Senator) Hillary Clinton called in advance to inquire what Kemper would be wearing at her breakfast speech, so that their outfits wouldn’t clash. And asked the names of the interns who’d be greeting her.
But what Kemper considered the highlight of the evening was a presentation by Belgian Ambassador Jan Matthyson of IFE’s International Diplomacy Award to patroness-of-the-arts, international emissary and IFE friend Ina Ginsburg – who, as “Coach” recalled, she met arranging doubles matches with the likes of Secretary of State George Shultz, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, Justice Scalia and Senator Thad Cochran.