Pamela Harriman, Ambassador to France, Democratic fund-raiser, political socialite and the ex-daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill, died on February 5th in Paris due to complications resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage. President Clinton commented on Wednesday, “[she was an] extraordinary U.S. ambassador. She was a source of judgment and inspiration to me, a source of constant good humor and charm and real friendship and we will miss her very, very much.” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright remembered Harriman by calling her a “central figure in the history of this century.” Albright also said, “America has lost a remarkable representative, the State Department has lost one of its most effective diplomats and I have lost a friend.”
Often referred to as a punctilious host (one of her biographies is entitled Life of the Party), Harriman started giving fund-raising dinners for Democratic candidates in the 1970’s. She dramatically increased her efforts for the Democratic party after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. After becoming Ambassador to France, Harriman devoted her often 18-hour days to working on issues of international trade, NATO expansion, and the war on Bosnia. After her long days, she would often stay up for hours more in communication with the State Department on international affairs and trying to forestall cuts in the Foreign Service budget.
A self-described feminist for the last fifteen years of her life, Harriman commented last year, “It’s almost incredible to people I work with today to realize I was born in a world where a woman was totally controlled by men. I mean, you got married and there was kind of no alternative. The boys were allowed to go off to school. The girls were kept home, educated by governesses. It never sort of occurred to me in the first, I suppose 20 years of my life, that a woman could move from the position that pre-World War II women like me were in.”
In late 1996 she gave an interview during which she was asked if there was anything she wish she’d done differently. She replied, “No. I consider I have had a very fortunate life.” Asked if she’d lived a happy life she commented, “Very, very. I drank deep of the well.”