WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the stars seemed perfectly aligned over the Bluegrass Ball: Kentucky native Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest boxer ever, showed up to help celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama, who many hope will become the greatest president ever.
Ali was honored at the inaugural eve gala presented by the Kentucky Society of Washington at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. He will be a special guest of Obama on Tuesday at the swearing-in ceremony.
"We wanted him to be part of this monumental weekend," said Greg Roberts, president and CEO of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.
Ali greeted well-wishers during a reception and posed for photos. Many wished him happy birthday, although his birthday was Saturday, when he turned 67. Talk show host Larry King, who will do a special on Ali, was among the ball's 1,500 guests.
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Ina Brown Bond, chairman of the board of the Ali Center for seven years, said her father, Lyons Brown, was one of the original backers of Ali when he turned pro.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear presented Ali with a bronze bust of another Kentuckian, Abraham Lincoln, a replica of the original bronze by artist Robert Berks.
U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who made headlines after missing several significant Senate votes this month, showed up at the ball. But when a guest tried to introduce a reporter to the senator, he turned abruptly and strode in the opposite direction.
Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry was in town for the inaugural festivities, as were Vice Mayor Jim Gray, newly elected council member Diane Lawless and former council member Richard Moloney.
Newberry called the pre-inauguration environment in Washington "one of the most exciting, joyous occasions" he has ever experienced.
Other Lexingtonians on hand included Everett McCorvey, director of University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, and his wife, singer Alicia Helm McCorvey; and former Lexington police chief Anthany Beatty, now the vice president of public safety at the University of Kentucky, and his wife, Eunice.
The dinner featuring grilled Kentucky bison filet was planned and coordinated by Michael Paley, executive chef of Louisville's Proof on Main. Table arrangements with orchids and Kentucky-grown Asiatic and oriental lilies were created by Sharon Bale, UK professor of horticulture.
The Kentucky Distillers' Association presented a "Kentucky Bourbon Trail," a bourbon tasting featuring most of the state's distillers.