Maureen Dowd, the liberal New York Times columnist, may be averse to public speaking, but she’s got a ton of material, certainly enough to keep a roomful of movers and shakers chuckling in New Orleans on Thursday.
There was the time she paid Nancy Reagan’s astrologer $250 to do her sister’s horoscope. The occasion Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, asked her meekly to stop calling his boss “goofy.” And the portentous moment of her first private meeting with President Barack Obama.
“You are really irritating,” said the president, who, according to Dowd, has since banned her from White House briefings for political columnists.
While she was digesting that opening line, Dowd said, Obama repeated himself: “You are really irritating.”
Serving as the keynote speaker for the Bureau of Governmental Research’s annual luncheon at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street, Dowd offered a selective, half-hour tour of her nearly three decades covering Washington, starting in an era when few women had made it to the top rungs of the political media.
She stuck close to her prepared remarks and acknowledged her dislike of public appearances.
Recalling the time she was cajoled into appearing on “Meet the Press,” Dowd said she had finally gotten through it and was feeling relieved when a cameraman told her she had done a nice job but probably should have taken the price tag off her sweater.
In a personal aside, she mentioned her conservative siblings and a politically peripatetic sister whose sympathies have swung between George W. Bush, Che Guevara and Donald Trump.
Her brother told her one time that if a hurricane struck, she would blame it on Bush. “And I did,” she said, drawing her biggest laugh of the afternoon for the Hurricane Katrina reference.
Of the presidents she has covered, she sounded most fond of the first Bush, even if some of his advisers thought it was odd to find a woman from a working-class background, rather than the typical patrician male, covering the president for the Times.
Dowd said he once wrote her a note that read, “I like you. Please don’t tell anyone.”
Thursday’s luncheon also included a warm send-off for Janet Howard, who stepped down from her role as BGR’s president and CEO in August after 14 years.
The group has set up an endowment, starting with an anonymous $500,000 donation, to fund future speakers for the luncheon under the moniker of the Janet Howard Speaker Series in Governmental Research.
BGR also announced newly elected board members. They include Charmaine Caccioppi, vice president and COO at United Way of Southeast Louisiana; Leah Engelhardt, a lawyer with Preis PLC; Todd McDonald, vice president of marketing at Liberty Bank; Melissa Sawyer, co-founder and executive director of the Youth Empowerment Project; and Steve Usdin, a founding member of the law firm Barrasso, Usdin, Kupperman, Freeman & Sarver.
Four other directors were re-elected for a second term: Toya Barnes-Teamer, vice president for student success at Dillard University; Joseph Giarrusso III, a lawyer with Liskow & Lewis; Glenn Hayes, benefits consultant with Group Insurance Associates Inc.; and David Kerstein, president of Helis Oil & Gas Co.