Party-Girl Turns Lady at American Embassy

The bearers of the flags

Standard bearers carrying many of the flags of the allies on parade.

US Ambassador Pamela Harriman Dies in Paris
President Chirac Offers 'Solemn Homage' Today

Paris:- Saturday, 8. February 1997:- The US Ambassador to France, Mrs. Pamela Harriman, died at the American Hospital in Neuilly on Wednesday.

Nominated to the post in 1993 by President Clinton, Pamela Digby Churchill Harriman, 76, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while swimming at the Ritz on Monday night.

Mrs. Harriman was an extraordinary lady and, by all accounts, an extremely competent and able US Ambassador to France. Today, state TV's A2 midday news presenter Bruno Masure said she was a diplomat 'hors pair' or exceptional.

Before becoming a diplomat by way of raising funds for the Democratic Party for the 1992 elections, Mrs. Harriman was born in England into an old aristocratic family somewhat out of fortune.

At 19 she remedied her situation by marrying Randolph Churchill, son of the prime minister. He soon went off to war and Mrs Harriman assisted her father-in-law by playing hostess to figures such as Max Beaverbrook, Harry Hopkins and Avrell Harriman during the war.

Mrs Harriman being carried from Embassy in Paris

Mr. Harriman - she became Mrs. Harriman 30 years later - underwrote a London salon that Mrs. Harriman, then Churchill, ran out of Grosvenor Square, which she recalled as 'Eisenhowerplatz' - a locale where the heads of the Anglo-American alliance could meet informally.

After the war and her divorce from Randolph Churchill, she moved to Paris where she had a good time with several 'big hats' and she eventually moved on to America, where she married Leland Hayward, the Broadway producer. After he died, she married Mr. Harriman in 1971. She added his interest in the Democratic Party to her own, and began fund-raising and the Harriman household became sort of an exile headquarters for the party during the Reagan years.

Biographies about Mrs. Harriman include 'Life of the Party' by Christopher Ogden and 'Reflected Glory' by Sally Bedell Smith. Mrs Harriman denied that it was her fault that she happened to meet a lot of men who happened to be rich; "It was luck and timing," she said.

Some other women bitterly thought she had some sort of monopoly on both and accused her of having no wit. That may have been so, but she did have the wit to convince the men she met they had wit, and that was part of her effectiveness.

Today, Mrs. Harriman was presented with France's highest award, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, by President Jacques Chirac. Last year Mrs. Harriman was honored by being made a Commander of the Order of the Arts of France.

Later today, her body will make a final flight to America, accompanied by her son, Winston Spencer Churchill. Her funeral service will take place in Washington's National Cathedral on 13. February.

A little less than two years ago, as part of the 50th Anniversary of VE Day, I saw Mrs. Harriman in action. She seemed like an attractive and energetic lady and seemed perfectly at home standing on a jerry-built platform, handing out six-packs of Champagne to raffle-ticket winners. The report of this occasion follows below.

Smoke and Fire

Anglo-Expat Ceremony a Big Success

From Richard Erickson's Paris Journal - Freelance Correspondent to the Paris Pages
Used with permission of Norman Barth's 'The Paris Pages - Les Pages de Paris'

Meudon:- Monday, May 8, 1995 - A grand celebration event was put on by the Royal British Legion in the Paris suburb of Meudon today.

The affair was under the patronage, and in the presence of His Excellency, Sir Christopher Mallaby, Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Republic of France. Top honors were shared by Mrs Pamela Harriman, Ambassador of the United States of America, also a republic.

It was billed as an enjoyable evening of commemoration and reconciliation; featuring serious religious thoughts, colorful parades, smoked food, warm drink, and considerable entertainment.

The event took place on the grounds of the Standard Athletic Club, located in the Forest of Meudon, just southwest of Paris. The day had started soft, but got brighter by the start of the open-air service at 6:45 pm. This included a 'parade of standards' featuring the flags of many nations, including the new flag of Russia.

The entertainment began after the parade. It included the British School of Paris Orchestra and choirs, followed by the Washington, Pennsylvania, Steel Band. However their scheduled program was cut short, as was that of the local 'International Players', who performed a medley of popular war-era songs.

The barbecue at the Standard
The barbecue was smokey.

Meanwhile smoked food was being served for those who love barbecue and long lines formed in front of the salad tent. The light wind that seemed to be blowing mostly down spread the barbecue smell to those at the end of the line, who were seen to absent themselves frequently to replenish their beverages of which there were a great variety available - but alas, neither tea - wot, no tea?! - nor coffee - a refreshing pick-me-up drink sometimes preferred by colonials.

In spite of the many highlights of the evening, some events stood out. The American Ambassador proved herself a good sport by calling out the winning numbers of the lottery, which were handed to her by Her Majesty's Ambassador's wife, Mrs Mallaby, out of a slightly used champagne carton; which was fitting as first prize was five bottles of that good fizzy stuff and second prize was a trip to the United Kingdom. Or was it the other way around? In any case, it appeared as if a good number of people had lost their tickets while waiting in the salad line, and a good number of numbers had to be called out - in English and in French by Mrs Harriman - before the lucky winners could be found.

Mrs Harriman hands out champagne to raffle winner
US Ambassador Harriman calls out winning lottery numbers assisted by Her Majesty's Ambassador's wife, Mrs Mallaby.

By this time the sun had disappeared on its trip to the western hemisphere, and the wind that was blowing downwards took on aspects of a draft from an open refrigerator door.

Luckily at this point, it was time for the highlight of the evening: the lighting of the 'beacon.' This event was timed to coincide with a similar event in Hyde Park in London, where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was to light this symbol of reconciliation. Actually the 'beacon' at the Standard Athletic Club resembled a huge pile of second-rate shipping pallets which were conveniently made of dry wood. To this several additives such as some straw that happened to be lying around, fire-starters and white gas were added for luck.

Pyrotechnical experts lit well-prepared torches, and handed them to the two adventurous ladies, Mrs Mallaby and Mrs Harriman, who without further ado, set the towering heap on fire. It was 9:33 pm Paris time as the flames at first hesitated, then set about their task with gusto.

Mrs Harriman and Mrs Mallaby light the beacon
Mrs Mallaby and US Ambassador Harriman stand back after lighting the bomb-fire.

As this was not enough, fireworks followed: which were in turn followed by dancing to the energetic music of the 'Roaring Forties' Band, which played popular favorites from the 1940's to '60's. The bar was still open to take the chill off those who had not dared to get too close to either the barbecues, the bombfire or the fireworks.

As there will only be one 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day; it makes sense that those who participated made the most of it and will probably remember it fondly - as the night before they got pneumonia.

Finally, thank you, Ambassadors, and good night.

Correspondent's Note:

The Standard Athletic Club is official; that is, it has the Queen or somebody as patron. As far as I know it existed before WWII, and I heard it was used by the Gestapo as interrogation centre during war. After the war it was re-commissioned by Princess Elizabeth, in the early fifties.

It is a private club, but anybody can join. You have to pass through a membership committee. If you seem acceptable, after an interview, you are put on a waiting list.

Wives are informed that they may have to help out with serving tea on Sundays. The club has a bar and a fair number of French members as well.

Overall, the club has a good setting inside the Forest of Meudon and is easily accessible from Paris. I lived within walking distance of the club for ten years and although I would have had no difficulty in getting a sponsor to join; felt that the club might be less than cozy towards Irish republican members.

Originally published in Norman Barth's 'The Page Pages' on Monday, 8. May 1995.

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