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Dean Woo dines with Bush, Chinese president

Meghan Wons | Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Carolyn Woo, dean of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business since 1997, dined with world leaders last Thursday at a luncheon party in the White House – hosted by President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush in honor of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s first official visit to the United States.

Woo said she was one of approximately 180 guests, and estimated that 40 of those in attendance were Asian Americans. According to the Mendoza College of Business’s Web site, Dean Woo has an incredible breadth and depth of experience as a leader in the business world and has been honored by various organizations for her achievements.

But regardless of that achievement, she was surprised to be included in the event, which she attended with her husband Dave.

“We did not know why we were invited, but went out of curiosity and the desire for an experience,” Woo said.

Woo has also been a member of the Committee of 100 – an organization of Chinese-American leaders devoted to enhancing relations between the United States and China and the full participation of Chinese-Americans in American life – since 2001.

Woo said her acquaintance and retired General John Fugh – the highest ranking Chinese-American General when he was in office – made her and her husband feel comfortable in the White House from the moment they arrived. Fugh is also the incoming chair of the Committee of 100.

“General Fugh and I were the only representatives invited from the Committee of 100,” Woo said. “He knew everyone, made sure that I was properly introduced and kept taking pictures of me in front of different presidential portraits.”

The luncheon started at 11:30 a.m. and was held in various rooms in the East Wing of the White House.

“My favorite room was the yellow room – the sitting room for the Ladies’ bathroom and where portraits of the First Ladies were hung,” Woo said.

After greeting President Bush and being introduced to President Hu Jintao, Woo said she “mingled with John and Gwen Bolton, shook the hands of Dick and Lynn Cheney, exchanged greetings with Condeleeza Rice as fellow Domers, discussed issues of China-U.S. trade relations with Carla Hills, gawked at Scott McClellan and stood in front of Henry and Nancy Kissinger in the receiving line.”

Woo said her table, at which Donald Rumsfeld was the host, was next to the table where Bush and Jintao were seated.

“There was a mystery guest seated next to President Bush,” Woo said. “General Fugh, who was seated to my right, tapped her back and introduced himself as a member of the Committee of 100. She turned around and said, ‘Yes, I remember you; the Committee gave me an award when I was twelve.’ She was Michelle Kwan.”

Before the luncheon concluded at 2:50 p.m., a blue grass band played, Woo said.

“Bush loved it and Hu was ramrod straight,” Woo noted.

The presidents took to a podium to address the luncheon attendees.

“I saw that the presidents wore practical, comfortable shoes,” Woo said. “The Chinese President talked a lot about collaboration and the efforts for peace and he sounded sincere.”

When asked if she had any personal hopes for China-U.S. relations, Woo said she hoped the two countries would develop a stronger bond.

“We cannot afford to have [the] U.S. and China working at odds with each other. We also have major trade relationships that serve the interest of both countries. I do believe both leaders recognize these issues and will find a way to build rapport.”