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Life Of The Party

The secretary of education must be a popular man.

For his 65th-birthday party last week, Richard W. Riley drew a host of Washington VIPs, including President Clinton, the White House chief of staff, and four Cabinet members. But the life of the party turned out to be Buddy, the president's much-publicized new puppy.

Mr. Riley walked into the festivities on Jan. 6--four days after his birthday--thinking he was going to a potluck lunch with his staff. Instead, he was surprised to find more than 200 people waiting for him in the department's auditorium.

The crowd included the secretary's wife, two of his children, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala, and Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, as well many members of the Education Department staff.

The president and his new best friend arrived later. Mr. Clinton greeted the guest of honor with a big hug, and told him there was a reason he brought along his chocolate Labrador retriever.

"He wants to become an America Reads volunteer," Mr. Clinton said, referring to the literacy proposal Mr. Riley helped design during the president's 1996 campaign. "Only one thing has to be done. Dick Riley has to teach him to read."

As the president spoke, Buddy chewed on a plant in front of the lectern. "Don't eat that," Mr. Clinton said. "It will complicate our efforts to combat global warming."

The president did have some serious things to say to Mr. Riley, who has been education secretary from the start of the first Clinton term. "This has been an incredible journey, and I'm glad we made it together," Mr. Clinton said. "Thank you, friend."

"Secretary Riley was overwhelmed, surprised, and touched that the president and so many others were able to come" to the party, said Julie Green, Mr. Riley's press secretary.

Passing his 65th birthday, however, does not mean the secretary is getting ready for retirement, she said. At an age where Americans traditionally quit their jobs to take it easy, Mr. Riley is still hard at work.

"There are no signs he's slowing down," Ms. Green said.

--DAVID J. HOFF [email protected]

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