August 2, 2012 | By Matt Schudel
In 1967, Andrew Price came to the National Press Club as a 20-year-old busboy. Much has changed since then, but Mr. Price has remained an enduring, if unassuming, presence at the Club for all the years since.
Mr. Price worked his final Press Club Luncheon on July 24, serving a head table that included PBS news anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. When NPC President Theresa Werner announced to the gathering that Mr. Price would retire on Aug. 3 – 45 years to the day after he went to work at the Club – he received a standing ovation.
“That made me feel great,” Mr. Price said in an interview immediately afterward.
Werner says it's Mr. Price who makes everyone feel great.
“Since I have been coming to the NPC,” Werner said in an e-mail, “Mr. Price has always been a welcoming presence. His smile is so infectious.”
Soon after joining the Club’s staff, Mr. Price – out of respect, everyone seems to call him “Mr. Price” – became a waiter in the bar and dining room and later began serving at the Club’s other events.
“Some people have an inherent dignity about them,” former Club President Arthur E.F. Wiese noted. “It just seems to be part of the fabric of their personalities. Mr. Price is one of those people – quiet, self-effacing, soft-spoken, even shy but tremendously dignified. That’s why I can’t call him anything but ‘Mr. Price.’ Not Andrew, much less Andy. Always Mr. Price. His record of loyalty, responsibility and professionalism merit nothing less.”
Since the 1980s, he has been the waiter at the head table for NPC Luncheons and other special events. In that role, he may have served more presidents, international leaders, celebrities and other dignitaries than anyone else in Washington.
At the head table, Mr. Price said he has waited on “kings and queens from all over the world, presidents from other countries” and several U.S. presidents. He always performed his duties with a quiet efficiency, clad in his black jacket and bowtie, yet he was hardly anonymous to those he served.
Last fall, when presidential hopeful Herman Cain spoke at a Luncheon, he took a moment during his speech to acknowledge Mr. Price and his years of service to the Club.
President Gerald R. Ford visited the Club so many times that he came to know Mr. Price by name. Once, according to former Club President Mark Hamrick, Mr. Price served Ford a dessert.
“Mr. Price,” the former president said good-naturedly, “you are a bad man.”
Mr. Price grew up in Scotland Neck, N.C., and came to Washington in his late teens, working first as a dishwasher at the Shoreham Hotel and later at the Heritage House restaurant in Georgetown.
When he began working at the Club, he recalled, the members’ bar was on the 13th floor, where the Eric Friedheim Library is today. A second bar was open in the present-day Holeman Lounge. Both were crowded at lunchtime and in the evenings.
Mr. Price often worked two shifts in those days, arriving between 5 and 7 a.m. for the breakfast shift and sometimes staying until 11 p.m. Always the soul of discretion, he could not recall any embarrassing episodes concerning members or visiting VIPs – or, at least, he chose not to.
He said the quality of the food has improved markedly during his years at the Club, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the simple choreography of delivering meals to a crowded room with a minimum of commotion: “Serve from the left, pick up from the right,” Mr. Price said, and always refill a water glass before it is empty.
Mr. Price is the father of two sons – one of whom died in 2008. He said he is looking forward to a quiet retirement with his wife, Bessie.
“I think I might buy me a fishing pole and go fishing,” he said.
He will be honored with a reception at the Club on Friday, Aug. 3, his final day of work.