The [25 October 1997 C. S. Lewis Foundation] dinner was quite a sumptuous affair. First we received an envelope containing an elaborate souvenir program, a flyer for Oxbridge ’98 and a catalog of auction items. There was a lavish hors d’oeuvre buffet on a terrace outside the dining room, with a cash bar and silent auction items on tables all around. (The buffet was so big we thought at first it was the dinner!) Doug Gresham sat at a table signing copies of his book.
The ladies were mostly in black with a lot of gold; my wife was crushed because she was one of only a few who didn’t wear black. I could have wished for name tags, but we managed to strike up a few conversations.
I should mention that I’m not so bright sometimes; I went there thinking it was a CSL centenary affair, and only later realized that the program made it clearly the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the CSL Foundation. Actually the announcement some months ago included the words “and the launch of the centennial celebration of Lewis’ birth”, but that wasn’t mentioned in the program.
Finally we went into the dining room, and it sank in on me that there were about 400 people there. That’s $40,000 gross. We sat at a preassigned table; others at the table were some academics from Hope University (formerly Pacific Christian College) — do you know anything about it? There was a couple who got free tickets from somebody’s father, and weren’t much into Lewis; and one lady who had actually read Lewis independently. The nice young lady next to me was an English teacher at Hope, and teaches a course in Lewis’s writing. The dinner entree was prime rib, not outstanding but ample servings, and all the trimmings were first class, even the one glass of wine which was included.
The program started with grace by Nigel Goodwin, an English actor who looked somewhat odd but seemed otherwise OK. Later Warren Duffy (a talk show host) took over as M.C. and auctioneer. Following the printed program, we heard brief remarks by Doug Gresham — he got up, said a few nice words, and sat down, bless him! Next on the schedule was the live auction, which included some valuable items like two sets of round trip tickets to London, one set with a side trip to Gresham’s place in Ireland. They had a 1980 Mercedes sedan, but could not get a bid for the minimum of $5,000.
The next item on the printed program was to be a performance titled “CSL on Stage” by Tom Key, which I was looking forward to. But Stan Mattson took the microphone and spent the next 90 minutes or so showing slides of the Kilns restoration and praising the people who worked on it for about half the time; and the other half introducing and praising the (dozen or more) staff of the Foundation! We finally left about 11:00, because we had an hour’s drive back to where we were staying; so we never did get to hear Tom Key’s performance.
You know, I was bored and annoyed at Mattson, but in retrospect he had to be absolutely sincere in being so happy about the Kilns restoration and the Foundation buildup, and thinking that those were the important things about the 10th-anniversary celebration. I was there about Lewis, but he was there about the Foundation!
Finally, lest you think I’m an old grouch, I wasn’t the only one. Here’s an e-mail I received from a lady with similar reactions:
Re: Mattson’s Bash I read your report of the C. S. Lewis Foundation dinner and wanted to send you a hearty “Amen!” I’ve been to a lot of different C. S. Lewis events, and have never failed to connect with interesting and intelligent and sympathetic souls. I felt horribly out of place at that dinner — tweedy old college professor that I am. And my discomfort was intensified when I heard the woman next to me explaining earnestly that Lewis had written the story of his conversion in a book called “Simple Christianity.” I am so sorry we did not meet there. It would have redeemed the evening.
(The names of these candid letter writers must be withheld.)