Mary Ourisman adds Washington flair to the International Red Cross Ball.
By Donna Shor
Photos by Lucien Capehart Photography
The 56th International Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach went off with its usual elegance, pageantry and pomp, as well as a laundry list of changes.
First, a change in venue back to the ball’s former site, The Breakers hotel, instead of Donald Trump’s Mar-à-Lago Club. Next, the timing — it was held two weeks later than usual, neatly avoiding conflict with events such as Washington’s prestigious Alfalfa Club dinner, which had siphoned off ambassadors and lawmakers who might otherwise attend, and the annual opening night of the winter resort’s exclusive Everglades Club.
The usual program was simplified as well because the Saturday ball slid back to Friday to meet the Breakers’ availability, which eliminated the Ambassadors Dinner (always held on Friday). This, alas, cost visiting envoys the chance to see affinity credit card magnate Howard Kessler’s sumptuous art-filled villa, where the gathering took place in recent years, but gave them a chance to meet Palm Beachers Saturday night at their hosts’ homes where smaller private dinners were scheduled instead.
Their trip changed, too; the ambassadors came down by private chartered aircraft this time instead of Trumps sumptuously converted Boeing 727.
One more change: the chairmanship, which lately was split three ways, returned to a single general chairman in command, Mary Ourisman, former U.S. ambassador to Barbados. Another Washingtonian, Mary Mochary, shared the honorary co-chairmanship. Yet another Washington honcho who trod the red carpet was Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, the first woman to serve as American Red Cross chairman.
The ball’s protocol chief, former Ambassador to Denmark Stuart Bernstein and his wife Wilma are longtime Washington residents, as is co-chairman Rhonda Wilkins, wife of C. Howard Wilkins Jr., a former ambassador to the Netherlands.
The increased Washington presence in both ball-goers and ball officials was a noticeable change. During Mochary’s tripartite chairmanship, several of her Washington friends came down in support, liked it, returned, and even bought dwellings there. Mary Ourisman, who with husband Mandy has a winter residence in Palm Beach, attracted even more Washingtonians, who numbered more than 40 this year (about 10 percent of the guest list). The new blood from the nation’s capital comes to the fore as many longtime supporters from Palm Beach are being lost through attrition.
Another Washingtonian, cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, founded the ball in 1957, and this year the occasion honored her daughter, actress Dina Merrill, for her family’s continued support of the American Red Cross’s humanitarian mission. A sentimental moment came when Merrill, 87, was serenaded cabaret-style by Cole Rumbaugh, a grandson from an earlier marriage to Stanley Rumbaugh (who was also present).
The ball was stunning, bathed in a soft red glow, with the Red Cross traditional red and white theme everywhere, from the many red-gowned women and the red and white chairs in the Venetian Ballroom to the massed flower arrangements and even the food — lobster, beef and red-swirled cheesecake lollipops with raspberries galore. Going back on the plane, the envoys and their spouses were happy to give their impressions.
“Remarkable!” chorused Indonesian Amb. Dino Patti Djalal and his wife Rosa. “The friendliness of everyone!” said Jona Dora Karlsdottir, wife of the ambassador of Iceland. “The chance to meet Palm Beachers,’ said Portuguese Amb. Nuno Britto, adding to the observations of Ashok Mirpuri, the ambassador of Singapore, and his wife, Gouri, that exposure to the “locals”— most down here only for the three-month social season — introduced them to Americans from many parts of the United States.
All this and Peter Duchin’s orchestra, hotter than ever, added up to a good job well done.
See more photos in the March 2013 issue of Washington Life Magazine.