WASHINGTON -- A relaxed Nancy Reagan took over for her recuperating husband as host of a glittering state dinner in honor of Chinese President Li Xiannian and later said it was strange not having the president with her.
But she seemed completely at home handling the host's party chores after President Reagan presided at the dinner, exchanged toasts with Li and then retired to the family quarters.
Before leaving the state floor, Reagan saw Li to the door and the first lady was host for the entertainment in the East Room, which Li's wife, Lin Jainei, stayed to enjoy.
After Metropolitan Opera singers Grace Bumbry and Gregg Baker performed selections from George Gershwin's classic opera 'Porgy and Bess,' Mrs. Reagan thanked them and said, 'I'm sorry our husbands aren't here to hear you.
'Thank you for adding your special kind of magic to this evening,' she said.
The first lady wore a striking red satin print mandarin gown with a slit up the side, a dress presented to her when she and the president visited China in April 1984.
Mrs. Reagan told reporters it was 'strange' not having the president stay through the dinner. But he is so eager to get back to his official duties, 'I just have to hold him down,' so he can recover from his July 13 intestinal surgery to remove a cancerous growth, she said.
At the same time, she relayed word that despite reports, she is not running the White House, but simply is trying to care for Reagan.
She told United Press International through press secretary Jennefer Hirshberg:
'All I'm doing is trying to take care of my husband and, as I said before, he's a patient like anybody else and he needs time to recuperate.'
The first lady said she thinks the president 'will be able to recuperate well' at their mountaintop ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif., when they travel there next month for a vacation.
After seeing Lin to her limousine, Mrs. Reagan took a whirl on the dance floor with Secretary of State George Shultz, who made his own fashion statement with a white silk brocade dinner jacket.
Among the guests were actress Elizabeth Taylor, who was unescorted but had the company of a White House aide; actor Robert Mitchum; gold-medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton; broadcaster Walter Cronkite; Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower; authors John Hersey and Harrison Salisbury; and Reagan's official and informal advisers.
The dinner menu included lobster with tarragon mayonnaise, sesame seed twists, tenderloin of veal with morel sauce, tomato cups with minted peas, summer squash, romaine lettuce with jicama root amd pine nut dressing, peach and strawberry sorbet, lime sabayon and petit fours.
The wines included Balverne Chardonnay 1981, Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 1977 and Shramsberg Cuvee de Pinot.