Printer Friendly

PAMELA HARRIMAN, U.S. AMBASSADOR, 76.

Byline: Steve Goldstein Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

Pamela Harriman, who rose from failed English debutante to wife and lover of some of the world's most famous and wealthy men and, ultimately, to prominence in U.S. politics, died Wednesday in suburban Paris at age 76.

The death of the former daughter-in-law of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill brought to an end an amazing saga of a woman who transformed herself from one of the great courtesans of this century - in her biographer's phrase - into a power broker and fund-raiser for the Democratic Party and a savvy, respected practitioner of the diplomatic arts.

Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman would have been the first to say she had a ``history,'' but reveled in the fact that she had become respectable and taken seriously in powerful circles.

A Wall Street financier named Joseph Meehan nicknamed her ``Wheels,'' said biographer Sally Bedell Smith, in tribute to Harriman's ability to always have her wheels turning, planning ahead for her next move, her next change of image.

Harriman, who was completing a four-year tour as U.S. ambassador to France, died less than 48 hours after suffering a brain hemorrhage following a swim at the Ritz Hotel, a few blocks from her palatial official residence on the Rue du Faubourg St. Honore. She was taken to the American Hospital on Monday night where, officials said, she never regained consciousness.

President Clinton, who benefited from Harriman's patronage when he was governor of Arkansas, described her Wednesday as ``one of the most unusual and gifted people I ever met.''

``She was an extraordinary U.S. ambassador, representing our country as well as our government to the people of France and . . . earning the trust of the leaders and the admiration of people,'' said a somber Clinton as he departed on a trip to Georgia.

``Our country will miss her,'' he said. ``She was a source of judgment and inspiration to me, a source of constant good humor and charm and real friendship.''

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, ``Amidst the high-tech gadgetry of the information age, she was a master of the personal touch that separates simple communications from true diplomacy.''

Albright had met with Harriman recently here, after being sworn in as the first woman to hold that post.

Friends said Harriman seemed in fine spirits and health when she was here for Clinton's second inauguration, and talked excitedly about returning to Washington as she hosted friends at her opulent house on N Street in Georgetown.

Harriman owned a second Georgetown home until recently. In fact, at the death in 1986 of her third husband, multimillionaire financier and former New York Gov. W. Averell Harriman, her net worth was $115 million.

Seven years later, Harriman family members sued her for more than $30 million, alleging that she had squandered the estate's assets. The public legal squabble ended in settlement, but disrupted Pamela Harriman's duties as envoy to France.

Even so, for a woman who made Horatio Alger seem like a slothful ne'er-do-well, this was a minor, if distasteful, episode.

Her life, after all, had been about money.

Pamela Beryl Digby was born March 20, 1920, in Farnborough, England, the Dorset country home to Britain's 11th Lord Digby. The flame-haired, chubby young lady had a disastrous coming-out as a debutante in 1938, but was aided by a friend who introduced her to Randolph Churchill, the party-hearty son of Winston Churchill.

Randolph, who had once proposed to three women in a single evening, wasted little time in repeating the question, and he and Pamela were married in 1939. The unlikely union was officially dissolved on grounds of desertion in 1945, leaving Pamela with a son, Winston S., an exploitable name and entree to exclusive social circles.

A wartime fling with railroad scion Harriman - while she was living with her father-in-law at 10 Downing St. - assured her financial well-being, which she later enhanced with Fiat baron Gianni Agnelli, who set her up in digs in Paris.

After other dalliances with the monied Baron Elie de Rothschild and Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, she married Broadway producer Leland Hayward in 1960. When he died in 1971, Pamela made it official with Averell Harriman and became a U.S. citizen.

Biographer Smith, the author of ``Reflected Glory,'' said that despite a 28-year age gap, Harriman was the closest she had to a perfect match.

``They both were driven, focused, tended to collect useful people, and wanted to be at the center of power,'' said Smith.

Employing the vast Harriman fortune and network of political connections in the Democratic Party, Pamela took up politics (she even had a political action committee, PamPAC), lectured on foreign affairs and acquired an army of advisers.

This surprising metamorphosis accelerated after Averell Harriman's death, and culminated in her being named ambassador to France in 1993 by a young president for whom she had raised a lot of money.

``It was a great source of satisfaction to return to Paris, where she had been known as a mistress,'' said Smith.

By official and unofficial accounts, Harriman charmed Paris with her fluent French and her social graces. The French, Smith said, considered her ``notorious'' reputation as a plus.

Another friend described Harriman as a ``practical dreamer'' who transformed bad memories into good ones, and good ones into better ones.

She died secure in her own transformation, in full possession of her mystique.

There will be a memorial service for Ambassador Harriman in Paris, the State Department said Wednesday without announcing the time and place. Accompanied by her son, her remains will then be transported to the United States.

A funeral will be held next week in Washington, D.C., with interment scheduled at Arden House in Harriman, N.Y., the former residence of Gov. Harriman.

CAPTION(S):

Photo
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Feb 6, 1997
Words:968
Previous Article:BRIEFLY : OFFICER DIES IN CRASH DURING DRIVER PULL-OVER.
Next Article:FLEEING SUSPECT CRASHES INTO TRUCK; ONE DEAD, TWO INJURED IN GLENDALE.


Related Articles
Life of the Party.
MANTEGNA DEFENDS PORTRAYALS IN HBO'S `RAT PACK'.
RESORT HAS RICH HERITAGE.
FRANCE BIDS `FINAL ADIEU' TO HARRIMAN AT CEREMONY : CHIRAC BESTOWS FRENCH LEGION OF HONOR CROSS.
DIGNITARIES PAY LAST RESPECTS TO HARRIMAN.
NEWS LITE : ADULTRY TOPS LIST OF TV SINS.
HARRIMAN RECALLS UPS, DOWNS IN 3 YEARS AS ENVOY TO PARIS.
Obituaries.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters