Soft-spoken, genteel and above all anonymous, Mary Farr Wilroy is nonetheless Washington’s hostess with the mostest famous guests. For 14 years manager of Blair House, the official presidential guest house, she has entertained some 225 heads of state—including, most recently, the Shah of Iran. Last week Mrs. Wilroy retired and plans to write a book. Not to worry, though. Her discretion is the habit of a lifetime, and if there was any hanky-panky under her roof, it will remain shrouded in the prudent mists of her memory.
To hear Mrs. Wilroy tell it, the closest thing to scandal involved several members of a European leader’s staff who invited some young women to their rooms. With a stern expression of schoolmarmish disapproval, Mrs. Wilroy invited the women downstairs “to be properly entertained.” When they descended—in a properly chastened mood—she offered refreshments all around.
Ordinarily Mrs. Wilroy tried to be as accommodating as possible, never intruding on her guests’ privacy. The King of Morocco arrived with his own food and chef, King Saud of Saudi Arabia brought his own coffee pot and Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie insisted on walking his dog at 6 a.m. (It was the only animal to be a guest at Blair House.) “Each group had its own way of doing things,” she says. Before any visit she researched her guest’s tastes and observed preparations to the smallest detail. The Shah of Iran, for example, liked Vichy water, King Hussein of Jordan doted on hamburgers and french fries and one prime minister liked the after-shave lotion in his Blair House bathroom so much he asked for two dozen bottles—and, of course, got them. “Before a guest arrived I’d go through each room checking for fruit, flowers and note-paper,” says Mrs. Wilroy.
Assisted by a staff of eight, with as many as 33 auxiliaries who could be called in for a major visit, Mrs. Wilroy stood ready to meet all emergencies. At one time or another, she produced white ties, black ties, cufflinks, shirt studs—even a bouffant petticoat. There was one horrific occasion on which Australian Prime Minister Holt found himself awash in water from a ceiling leak and another time when an African lady (who spoke no English) locked herself in her bedroom and had to be talked out with the aid of a translator. When a Tunisian dignitary asked for herb tea late at night, Mrs. Wilroy dispatched a motorcycle policeman to find some.
A divorcée and the mother of four married children, she tried to make Blair House a place where guests could relax. “Once a prime minister from the Far East was suffering from jet lag,” she recalls. “He couldn’t sleep. So he came downstairs, ate a whole dish of chocolate candy and talked to the butler.” She best remembers Brazilian President Médici, returning from an exhausting round of official functions, looking at her wanly and sighing, “It’s good to be home.” Mrs. Wilroy says happily, “He couldn’t have paid us a higher compliment.”