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U.S. Ambassador Pamela Harriman Dies

2 minute read
Elizabeth Owen

PARIS: Derided by critics as a modern Madame de Pompadour and praised by political friends as the Democratic Party’s saving grace, Pamela Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to France, was a globetrotting personality not easy to ignore. Her death, like the final chapter out of a Jackie Collins novel, only reinforced that reputation. With reporters and paparazzi gathered outside, Harriman, 76, died Wednesday afternoon in a suburban Paris hospital after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage during a routine swim at the Ritz Hotel pool. “She was one of the most unusual and gifted people I ever met,” said Bill Clinton, who appointed Harriman to the Paris posting in 1993 after she put her formidable fund-raising talents and political contacts to work helping him win election. Born Pamela Digby, the daughter of a British baron, Harriman made all the right moves to reach the pinnacle of success. First married to the dissolute son of Winston Churchill, she presided over the Prime Minister’s social gatherings as a teenager, before spending the 1950s in Paris salons among glitteratti Christian Dior and Jean Cocteau. Next step: Hollywood and Broadway as the wife of “Sound of Music” producer Leland Hayward, who gained her entree into the Kennedy White House. Rumored lovers along the way included Frank Sinatra, journalist Edward R. Murrow and CBS founder William Paley, but the red-headed socialite with the dazzling smile finally settled on Union Pacific heir Averill Harriman, a man decades her senior who served as a Democratic Governor of New York and Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Britain. During the 1980s, Pamela, by then a naturalized U.S. citizen, organized salons for Democratic Party brass demoralized by the Reagan Administration’s political dominance, and energetically funneled an estimated $12 million into depleted DNC coffers. The French-speaking Harriman achieved a similar notoriety in the international arena, most recently with her attempts to engineer a breakthrough in the French-American impasse over command of NATO’s Allied Forces Southern Europe. For Harriman, hailed as the Democrats “most powerful kingmaker” by the Paris daily Le Figaro, the acclaim was only to be expected. “I am a political animal,” she allowed in a recent interview. It was, as always, an understatement.

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