29 Years

James Brantley
James Brantley

David Manning, (British) Ambassador between 2003 and 2007, remembers the day he realized quite what his place was in American social order. He said to me, emailed to me, I found out who really counted in this city and who didn’t when Amanda was invited to Bush 41’s 80th birthday party and I wasn’t,” said current British Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch who hosted a farewell party with his wife Lady Vanessa Darroch for the Embassy’s long time Social Secretary Amanda Downes.

“October 1989: This was a tumultuous year in history,” Amb. Darroch noted.  “The Communist regime in Hungary had collapsed; East Germany [opened the Berlin Wall];  but most of all, Amanda Downes arrived in Washington. The intention was just to stay two years and it’s now almost three decades – three decades of lunches, brunches, afternoon teas, conferences, dinners and receptions; three decades of scones and chips. We hold about 700 events a year at present, which means Amanda has presided over, I calculate, more than 20,000 events.  When she started, there were no spreadsheets, no email invitations, no iPads. I’m told that when she first arrived she hand wrote every invitation and licked every envelope and she was also in charge of all flower arrangements. Over her almost 29 years here there have been five presidents, six prime ministers – each of whom has stayed in this residence – not to mention royals, countless ministers and even a few rock stars and perhaps most testing of all no less than eight ambassadors. And let me tell you, all of us can be very different characters; each brought very different challenges for Amanda, though we probably have one consistent feature, which is we all took ourselves rather too seriously. I’ve been in touch with all of them and perhaps most telling is that they’ve all replied, all saying how brilliant Amanda was and how much they relied on her.”