The centerpieces were the giveaway. Rather than the usual eruptions of imported out-of-season flowers, each table was topped with a leather-bound tome by an author such as William Shakespeare, George Eliot, Edith Wharton or Pearl S. Buck. The books were propped on mini-word processors with the words "Family Literacy" on the screen.
The theme of the annual Town Hall of California dinner was reading and writing--in today's parlance, literacy. About 850 people representing business, education and the arts filled the Century Plaza Hotel's Los Angeles Ballroom Wednesday night to honor Jean Sharley Taylor, retired associate editor of the Los Angeles Times and originator of The Times' 2-year-old Reading Lab, which offers literacy skills to employees, their families and the downtown community.
As soon as they stepped from their cars, guests were invited to inspect the latest expansion of Taylor's vision, a New Age version of the little red school house: a mobile reading lab equipped with six computer work stations. "We just got it today," Barbara Neder, Reading Lab administrator, said of the large white van that will serve youth and adults in Los Angeles through different social service programs.
First Lady Barbara Bush served as the evening's honorary chair, and the timing of her husband's State of the Union address earlier that evening was lost on no one. "That this event is the same night that the President made one of his national goals to have all adults become literate by the year 2000 is symbolic," said Leonard Britton, superintendent of schools for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"The United States is in dire, dire danger of becoming a third-rate nation unless we catch up," said attorney Richard J. Riordan, co-chairman of the event with Tom Johnson, vice chairman of the Times Mirror Co.