REMEMBERING PAMELA HARRIMAN
FEBRUARY 5, 1997
For Pamela Harriman being married to Winston Churchill's son is a but a footnote in what was an incredible life. She passed away at age 76 in Paris, where she had been Amercica's ambassador to France. Richard Holbrooke looks back on the life of a woman who was his friend and colleague for over a quarter century.
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, we look back at the life and times of Amb. Pamela Harriman. Her full name was Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman. She was born in 1920, the daughter of a British baron.
At 19, she married the son of Winston Churchill, who when he became prime minister asked her to serve as his official hostess. Her marriage to the young Churchill dissolved after the war, and she moved to Paris and became companion and confidante to some of the world's wealthiest and most powerful men.
In 1960, she married Broadway and Hollywood producer Leland Hayward. That union also ended in divorce. In 1971, she married former New York Governor and diplomat Averell Harriman, the heir to a railroad fortune and a key fund-raiser for the Democratic Party. The marriage propelled her into a more public political life. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen and a successful fund-raiser for the Democratic Party. For years, her Washington home was a gathering place for party leaders.
PAMELA HARRIMAN: I'm a very normal human being. I've lived a very interesting life. And I'm very lucky, and I know it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In a successful effort to regain the White House from the Republicans, Harriman raised an estimated $12 million and served as a co-chair of the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign. In 1993, President Clinton appointed Harriman to the post of ambassador to France. Today in a statement on the White House lawn, the President mourned the loss of his friend.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Our country will miss here. We are deeply indebted to the work she did in France in maintaining our relationships with one of our oldest and closest allies. She was a source of a judgment and inspiration to me, a source of constant good humor and charm, and real friendship.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Here with us now to talk about Amb. Harriman is a man who knew her well as friend and colleague. Richard Holbrooke served as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs during the first Clinton administration. Thank you for being with us. And I know this is a hard day for you. You were a close friend of Pamela Harriman's.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE, Former State Department Official: It's a fantastic loss, it really is.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell us--
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: To the nation, not just to her friends.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell us about your association with her.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I met her 25 years ago when she married Gov. Harriman, for whom I'd worked. She was already an extraordinary figure and over 25 years we became close friends. Fate destined us to be ambassadors in adjoining countries, French and Germany, and then finally a kind of a weird twist at the end. I was nominally her boss for two years as assistant secretary, although nobody really was Pam Harriman's boss.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What stands out most in your mind about her?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: That's really a hard question. Of course, all her friends for the last three days have been on the phones all over the world asking each other that question. She probably was the most remarkable person any of us ever knew--about 57 years from the daughter of a baron in Dorset to No. 10 Downing Street as Winston Churchill's daughter-in-law, to the years in Paris as a divorcee with the most famous last name in Europe, Church; to New York; to Washington with Governor Harriman; and then to Paris--are just so unbelievable and when she presided over that embassy in Paris, which she did brilliantly, it was--she had Churchill and Roosevelt and Harriman in the room with her in a symbolic sense, and it was quite extraordinary.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: She was a legendary companion and confidante of very famous men from Frank Sinatra to the heir of the Fiat fortune. Tell us--explain that to us. What was it about her that was so attractive?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, you're asking the wrong person in a sense on this issue, but I would like to put the issue of Pam Harriman and the men in her life in perspective from my own point of view, because, of course, all her friends talked about it, and she and I talked about it a great deal.
Pam Harriman had a limited education. She had--I used to tease her--she had to overcome the disadvantages of her birth. She had basically learned French and Shakespeare from a tutor in the stately home in Dorset. And she was restless. She wanted to get away and move on, and the only way to do it was as a hostess at first in the social world. The men in her life adored her, and she adored them, and she learned a great deal from them. By the time she married the governor, Governor Harriman, and when he was almost 80, and then she became an American citizen, she began to move to the center of American politics, she had learned so much about American politics, bringing with her the instinct for power that she'd acquired in London during World War II, and this thing about men is very badly misunderstood. This is not a story about Pam Harriman and the men in her life. It's the story about Pam Harriman achieving so much, starting from such an odd base.
You know, Elizabeth, I often thought today that if she had lived the life she was destined for, as the daughter of a baron, Baron Digby, she would have ended her life as the duchess dowager in some stately home in England, not as the American ambassador to France.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: She became very important during her husband's life, and after he died, as a fund-raiser and as a convener of Democratic Party leaders. Tell us about that.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: In 1980, Ronald Reagan stunned the Democratic Party when he took over the White House. Governor Harriman and Pam Harriman were the first Democrats to rally. Almost immediately, the held a dinner in Washington. I was honored to be at it, in which they said let's get up off the floor. Pam, I remember, talked about Churchill and his defiance when he was under pressure and said we can't give up.
For the next 12 years, the Republican years, her house in Georgetown, both before and after the governor died, was the center of the loyal opposition. She raised money but much more importantly than that she rallied people. And all over this country there are people less cynical than Washingtonians who looked to Pam as some kind of model or even inspiration because she did so much for them. She didn't need to do any of this. She could have lived a life of luxury and ease like most women of her social class and standing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Then President Clinton appointed her ambassador. Tell us how she was as ambassador. It was a controversial appointment in some circles.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I knew every ambassador in France for the last 30 years, and she was quite simply the best. She had unique access not only in Washington but in Paris. The French were very pleased she'd come back to the city where she'd lived 45 years earlier. They were pleased by her glamor, something which means a great deal in France, but also, Elizabeth, she worked.
An hour before her fatal stroke, she was on the phone to her dear friend and mine, Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff, talking about some obscure detail of the Conventional Forces in Europe arms treaty, the CFE Treaty. Most ambassadors would leave it to a lower-ranking person; she was immersed in the details of such things. At the same time, she was a perfectionist in the way she presented the embassy. She did a brilliant job, truly brilliant, and in a sense, everything that had gone before has to be looked back on in a new sense because of the ambassadorship.
Had her life ended without that ambassadorship we would be remembering her tonight in a different way, but in a sense, everything else led to this great moment when on her own, having absorbed so much from Averell Harriman and other people in her life, she was prepared to do something of great importance to her country, her adopted country, an do it magnificently.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Richard Holbrooke, thank you very much for being with us.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Thank you.