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casino partyIf Jim Widman had bet on how he would spend his 60th birthday, he would have lost— big. On Nov. 5, he was under the impression that he was accompanying his wife, Peggy, 58, to a fund-raiser for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Instead, when the couple arrived at Rainbow Hill— the former mansion of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, now owned by Atlantic Distillers president Henry Wright— 200 guests surprised him with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” that kicked off a “casino night” party.

The party itself wasn’t the only surprise of the evening. In 1998, clad in a set of tails and a borrowed top hat, Jim strolled into Smyth Jewelers, where Peggy was working at the time, and proposed. “He thought he was the swiftest thing on the block,” says Peggy. He even wore the top hat on their wedding day, before returning it to its owners, friends Jane and Bill Love. The night of the party, the Loves gave Jim his birthday gift: the very top hat he had worn to propose to his wife seven years before. “He was very touched,” says Peggy. “It brought him to tears.”

casino partyAs some partygoers tried their hands at the Texas hold ’em, blackjack, craps and poker tables, other guests danced well into the night, prompting the band to stay longer than planned. They even lent the mike to Jim’s daughter Lindsey, who performed, “Papa Can You Hear Me?”

As with all good surprise parties— and many good poker hands— Jim’s required a lot of bluffing. “He has a lot of really good friends,” says Peggy. “And nobody spilled the beans!” —Annliese Scott

the party line

casino partyoccasion: Surprise 60th birthday soiree.
theme:“Casino night,” with bona fide dealers behind craps, poker, Texas hold ’em and blackjack tables— and a “Vegas showgirl” who mingled through the crowd.
venue: Rainbow Hill, a private mansion in Green Spring Valley.
decorations: As guests entered, a chandelier in the center of the room illuminated a 5-foot-tall arrangement of red roses set atop a round table. “It was the most extraordinary floral display I’d ever seen,” says Peggy. Other floral arrangements were scattered throughout the first floor.
guest list: Two hundred family members, longtime friends and co-workers came to celebrate. His 12 grandchildren were tucked snugly into the upstairs bedrooms after dinner while their parents danced into the early morning hours downstairs.
special touch: Guests gambled with play money that had Jim’s picture printed on it.

fare

Sushi station
Saffron shrimp in Japanese spoons
Zucchini fritters with crème fraîche and caviar
Grilled lamb chops
Grilled tenderloin medallions
Jumbo lump crab cakes
Tortellini in tomato basil cream sauce
Bananas Foster cooked at tableside

plan

casino partycatering: Watson Caterers, 410-252-2222
flowers: Joe Ennd, In Any Event, 410-598-1818

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