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RSVP : They Came to Praise and Honor George Bush

March 08, 1995|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the United States, the major transition in an ex-President's life is to segue from being leader of the free world to centerpiece of the Kodak moment.

At Monday's USC School of Public Administration's Ides of March dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, George and Barbara Bush handled the requisite photography this way: At exactly 6:10 p.m., the former President strode into the VIP reception. Hands in his pockets before a blue backdrop, Bush looked surprisingly boyish for 70. He stood alone for a few minutes waiting for his wife. Then they were ready for pictures.

"OK, this is very important," dinner chairman Richard Torykian called out to the black-tie crowd of about 100 gathered in the Champagne Room. The chatter at the cocktail party diminished, and the VIPs/major donors turned to listen.

"You go up," continued Torykian, "you have your picture taken with Mr. and Mrs. Bush. You don't tell 'em your life story. OK? I'm the dinner chairman, you do what I say."

With that cogent bit of instruction, a long line snaked its way toward the former presidential couple, beginning the black-tie evening that raised more than $1 million for a school that USC President Steven Sample said "educates the people who make government work."

When the VIPs went to the main ballroom, dinner started with an ROTC honor guard with the American and California flags followed by the singing of the national anthem. This tied in with the evening's theme, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Torykian introduced the many military officers and Congressional Medal of Honor winners who were present. The entertainment provided by the Walt Disney Co. was a trio of Andrew Sisters-style singers who sang such hits of the era as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." In the keynote address, Bush reminisced about his war experience as a pilot.

Among the evening's honors was the presentation of the Julius Award to Bush. "They named a salad after him--now I get an award," he quipped, and at the end of the evening a special award was presented to Bob Hope.

The 700 guests included Lod Cook, Rosey Grier, Brooks and Dennis Holt, Ione Piper, Yoshi and May Honkawa, Leonard Schaeffer, Angelo and Phyllis Mozilo, Bill Price, and School of Administration President Jane Pisano.

During his speech, Bush got a laugh when he noted that his Secret Service security team was concerned that the name of the annual dinner refers to the date of Julius Caesar's assassination. "As a cautionary measure they told me to stay away from the wine," said Bush, "and out of the first-strike zone of the broccoli."

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