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Pamela Harriman

Comments by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Pamela Harriman was one of the remarkable women of the twentieth century.  Her designation in 1993 as the United States ambassador to France was the culmination of a varied and vivid career.

Relations between France and the United States were sometimes prickly in the nineteen-nineties.  Mrs. Harriman prepared for her appointment by spending long hours with our best academic specialists on France.  This was typical of the disciplined and conscientious approach that, accompanied by linguistic skills, unflagging energy and remarkable charm, made her an effective representative of her adopted country.

"She made herself," wrote the commentator William Pfaff from Paris in the International Herald Tribune, "the most successful American political ambassador of the decade."  After her death in 1997, the French president Jacques Chirac, calling her "a great ambassador of the United States and a grand lady,"  conferred on her posthumously Frances's highest award, a Legion of Honor medal.  President Clinton and Vice President Gore spoke at her funeral in the National Cathedral in Washington.

Pamela Harriman had long appreciated the importance of public service.  She felt that foreign service in particular offered young people a unique opportunity to inform and fulfill themselves while serving their country.  That is why the College of William and Mary, an institution Pamela Harriman had long befriended, honored her by establishing the Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellowships.

History had educated Pamela Harriman in the transcendent significance of public service in a democracy.  She was born in 1920 to an old English county family.  Marriage to Randolph Churchill in 1939 thrust her into the center of the British government during the Second World War.  Winston Churchill encouraged Pamela's genuine absorption in public affairs, intelligent curiosity, an instinct for people and a steely determination to do any job.

In the late nineteen fifties she came to the United States and in 1960 married Leland Hayward, the theatrical agent and producer.  After his death she married Averell Harriman, whom she had first met in London during the war.  Harriman, a leading diplomat of his generation as well as a former governor of New York and a force in the Democratic party, completed her education in diplomacy and politics.  Accompanying her husband on his foreign travels until his death in 1986, Pamela Harriman met world leaders on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Acquiring American citizenship and established in Washington, Pamela Harriman was a founder and chairman of Democrats for the 80s, a political action committee.  As an influential political activist, she was among the first to bring to Washington a then little known governor of Arkansas, William Jefferson Clinton.

Her abiding concern was foreign affairs and world peace.  And she believed in the young.  "It is you," she once said, "the young people just entering public service, to whom we look to forge new paths of understanding among the nations of the world."

  • United States Ambassador to France 
  • Honorary Trustee and Honorary Member of the Executive Committee of the Brookings Institution 
  • Vice Chairman of the Atlantic Council  Member of the Council on Foreign Relations 
  • Trustee of Rockefeller University 
  • Member of the Trustees Council of the National Gallery of Art 
  • Member of the Board of the Friends of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies 
  • Member of the Advisory Council of the W. Averell Harriman Institute at Columbia University 
  • Vice President of the English-Speaking Union of the United States 
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute 
  • Honoree, National Mental Health Association 
  • Member of the Board of Directors, Green Door 
  • Trustee of the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States 
  • Founder and Chairman, Democrats for the 80's 
  • Member of the Commission on Presidential Debates 
  • Chairman, Quarterly Policy Issues Forum, Democratic Governors Association 
  • National Co-Chair, Clinton/Gore Campaign 
  • At-Large Member of the Democratic National Committee 
  • Vice President, New York Horticultural Society 
  • President, Middleburg Hunt 
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, Columbia University 
  • Philanthropist
College of William and Mary
  • Member, The Board of Visitors, 1986-1990  
  • Benefactor, The Pamela Harriman Professorship of Government and Public Policy  
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, 1996  
  • Charter Day Speaker, 1996  
  • Host of the William & Mary Choir at the Ambassador's Residence in Paris  
  • Sponsor, Thomas Jefferson Project at the Ambassador's Residence in Paris  
  • Cofounder of the Sarah Ives Gore Childcare Center