Abigail Van Buren--or Dear Abby, if you prefer--is one of the few recognized authorities who can offer precise, step-by-step instructions on how to respond when wife-to-be No. 3 announces that your first two wives have agreed to be her co-matrons of honor.
No wicket is too sticky for Dear Abby, no situation too outlandish to inspire even a modicum of written reticence on her part--which made it all the more surprising that at the Saturday fund-raiser at which San Diego Hospice presented Van Buren its 1990 Humanitarian of the Year award, Abby was nearly speechless.
The hospice annually provides health care and counseling services to about 1,000 patients facing life-threating illnesses. The patient's families are also aided. At the dinner, it was announced that the 24-bed San Diego Hospice Center on Vauclain Point will open Feb. 14, 1991.
Van Buren, who attended the dinner-dance at the La Jolla Marriott with her husband, Morton Phillips, and hospice primary benefactor Joan Kroc, may have concluded that brevity is the soul of wit after joining the attendance of 750 in listening to a roster of speakers who took the term testimonial dinner at full face value.
Testimonials flew about the ballroom until the air seemed ready to rain them on the heads of Van Buren, Kroc, the committee, the several dozen table sponsors and dinner chairmen Jenny and Sid Craig, who were widely credited for the evening's record net proceeds of more than $200,000.
During breaks between the bouts of speechifying, guests found time to wave forks at the chicken dinner, shake legs to the Wayne Foster Orchestra and watch a videotaped tribute to Van Buren that included remarks by her sister and fellow advice columnist, Ann Landers.
Recognized by San Diego Hospice President Holly Lorentson as a quiet but longstanding and notably generous benefactor, Van Buren approached the podium to accept the humanitarian award after listening to Kroc's description of her as one who "helps those who are hurting."
"Abby holds America's hands, and sometimes she slaps us across the wrist when we need it," said Kroc. "She makes us think, she makes us hope."
Van Buren evidently discarded whatever acceptance speech she may have written because her impromptu remarks were freshly inspired by table mate Mercedes McCambridge, San Diego's Academy Award-winning actress.
"Mercedes McCambridge said to me, 'You have been canonized tonight. So has been Joan Kroc--she is Joan of Arc and you are Westminster 'Abby,' "' Van Buren reported, adding: "You are truly beautiful people. Thank you."
And that was that.
The evening started at 6 p.m. with a VIP reception at which Van Buren, wearing a wide collar of pearls and diamonds and a simple but chic black sheath, spent the first half-hour obliging a corps of tireless photographers. The attendance was rich in notables, including author and hospice foundation board member Norman Cousins and his wife, Ellen, and Palm Springs society decorator Steve Chase, whose client list includes Kroc.
Sid and Jenny Craig formally received the guests and said they became involved with San Diego Hospice after attending the 1989 testimonial dinner, at which retired U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop was granted the humanitarian award.
"We were so impressed by the event and by the people honored that we had to become involved," said Jenny Craig. "Once we saw the level of commitment at which these people at hospice work to get things done, we became emotionally involved."
Kroc, whose multimillion-dollar gift underwrote the construction of the hospice center, also shared in the evening's lavish distribution of praise.
"The formal opening ceremonies for the center appropriately will be on Valentine's Day, and Joan Kroc made it all possible," Jenny Craig said to fervent applause. "As a woman, I am extremely proud of Joan Kroc because she has risen to the role she plays in business today without a lot of role models to guide her. The young women of San Diego today are fortunate to have Joan as their role model."
Banker and dinner treasurer Bob Adelizzi and his wife, Tommi, headed a guest list that included Linda Smith, Freddie and Robert Driver, Sue and Charles Edwards, Sally and John Thornton, Julie and Mark LeDoux, Luba Johnston, Cecil Green, Karen and Jonathan McIntyre, Charles Feurzeig, Marge and Paul Palmer, Audrey Geisel, Emily Peagler and Mike O'Hara, Betsy and Doug Manchester, Junko and Larry Cushman, Marie and Dean Dunphy, Katy and Mike Dessent and Penny and Mike Wilkes.
RANCHO SANTA FE--In this bucolic community, the arrival of Labor Day announces not only autumn's approach but the imminent re-enactment of a one-day siege that for 36 years has seen 2,000 women and a few men descend upon the lawns of the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe for an afternoon of energetic box-lunching and fashion-watching.
This year, the annual "Appearance of Autumn" event--sponsored by the countywide The Country Friends philanthropic organization and consistently the largest outdoor fashion show staged in the United States--washed over Rancho Santa Fe on Sept. 18. In its wake, it left 10 proud couples and net earnings of more than $50,000. The proceeds will be combined with other Country Friends funds and divided among numerous social service agencies, including the Alzheimer Family Center, the Home of Guiding Hands, Vista Community Center and Lifeline Community Services of North San Diego County.
Country Friends President Jean Newman called it "just dumb luck" that the day followed the breezy pattern nature normally grants the event, but the tradition continued, and as always the eucalyptus leaves cast paisley patterns over the women seated on each side of the lengthy runway.
An opening segment traditionally honors noted volunteers and philanthropists; chairman Bess Lambron amended that tradition to honor couples instead. By chance, most of the men wore blue suits, while Nordstrom outfitted their wives. Betty and Alex DeBakcsy were first down the ramp, followed by Martha and George Gafford, Alison and George Gildred, Alyson and George Goudy, Ingrid and Joe Hibben, Virginia and Jack Monday, Rita and Josiah Neeper, Shirley (who died the next Sunday after a 14-year battle against cancer) and David Rubel, Elsie and Frank Weston and Betty and Burnet F. Wohlford.
Key members among the sizable committee were Mili Atchison, Laurie Peters, Marilyn Dailey, Lynn Adkison, Flo Bible, La Verne Briggs, Nan Werner, Jeanne McMullin, Pat Irvine, Peggy Matthews, Mary Ann Fitch, Valerie Weaver and Pat Wood.