The funeral service at Scots’ Church in Melbourne, Australia for former Prime Minister Robert G. Menzies had just ended. My wife and I were now at a reception and luncheon for members of the official diplomatic delegations to the State Funeral.
It was May 19, 1978. We were in the Government House of the state of Victoria, official residence of the Governor of Victoria. It was built in the 1870s and is one of the finest examples of 19th-century residential architecture. We were in the large and elaborate gold gilded State Ballroom.
I had just finished speaking with two former prime ministers of Great Britain, Harold Wilson and Sir Alec Douglas Home. Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Fraser had asked me to come with him. He was introducing me to Prince Charles who was heading the British delegation.
Prime Minister Frasier said we had something in common. Prince Charles, my wife and I were by far the youngest members of the official delegations at the funeral. Prince Charles and my wife were 29, and I was 28.
Now who was Prime Minister Menzies? He was Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, serving eighteen years, 1939–1941 and 1949–1966. He authorized Australia’s entry into World War II.
His was the largest State Funeral ever held in Australia with over 100,000 people lining the streets of Melbourne near where the service took place. There were 54 members of different foreign delegations in attendance.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia and the Commonwealth, said in tribute, “Robert Menzies was a distinguished Australian whose contribution to his country and the Commonwealth will long be remembered”.
After the introduction by Prime Minister Frasier and cordialities Prince Charles said, “I understand you are from the state of Georgia”.
I replied to him, “That is true, but I recently relocated to Washington, DC where I now live”.
He said he understood that my wife and I were personal representatives of President and Mrs. Carter. He found that interesting and asked if I knew them well. I told him that I had known them since 1967.
Being close to the same age we developed an easy rapport, even though he was in much more formal trappings.
Prince Charles said he had visited the United States the previous fall and had spent time in Georgia. He had even spent a night at the Governor’s Mansion.
Having been there a number of times myself we discussed the different period antiques in the rooms of the Mansion in which he had been interested.
He asked me if I had grown up in Georgia and I said I had. He asked me what it was like. I told him a bit about the more rural character of South Georgia where both President and Mrs. Carter and I grew up. We discussed the challenges of race relations in the South.
Amazingly he had visited the University of Georgia where I had gone to college. He had even been to a football game there. He was quite taken with the fact that Bulldogs was the team name and there was actually one at the field as a mascot.
I was impressed with the way Prince Charles carried himself as head of the British delegation. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance in that position as a member of the Royal Family.
It was interesting for me to see how the much older members of the delegation who were mostly former elected officials so easily deferred to him.
I found Prince Charles to be a very easy and engaging conversationalist. Not as formal as one might expect. Also, quite inquisitive and eager to question me about different aspects of the United States and my views on certain matters.
Eventually I was able to ask him about growing up as a Prince in Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Also about his education and relationships with his mother, Queen Elizabeth and his father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburg. We had an interesting discussion about these relationships.
This was of course before Princess Diana, and all that entailed for him. He said he was enjoying his official role but also ability to live a somewhat carefree life at present.
Before we knew it, they were asking everyone to be seated for the luncheon. Forty-five minutes had passed so rapidly in our conversation.
My wife and I were seated for lunch at the table with Prime Minister and Lady Frasier, and Averell and Pamela Harriman were at our table too. Averell was the chairman of our United States Delegation at the funeral. He had known Menzies when he was President Roosevelt’s special envoy to Winston Churchill during World War II.
I was seated between Lady Frasier on my left and my wife on my right. I had an enjoyable luncheon conversation with Lady Frasier. She was quite inquisitive about President Carter and the First Lady.
When she learned that I had known them since before he became Governor of Georgia she was particularly fascinated to hear about his peanut business and what I thought about him when he was Governor. I was equally as interested in learning more from her about Australia and her life there. Lady Frasier told me a lot of interesting information about her country and a few stories too.
After the luncheon a reception atmosphere resumed, brandy and cordials were served. That provided an opportunity to speak again briefly with Prince Charles and the members of the other delegations. Particularly memorable was Prime Minister Robert Muldoon of New Zealand and Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda of Japan.
Prime Minister Muldoon is memorable for his wit and since of humor. He gave my wife and me a running travelogue about the attractions of New Zealand and how much fun we could have there. Prime Minister Fukuda was primarily memorable because it was the first time I had ever conducted a conversation through an interpreter. He was very gracious with his bows too.
After wishing the other delegations our farewells we departed to the airport in Melbourne for our return flight to Canberra and the United States Embassy there.
How did I happen to be a member of an Official United States Diplomatic Delegation? Interesting question, and, as I liked to say afterwards, “There is a level at which the United States government operates very efficiently, and I was fortunate enough to briefly find it”.
On May 16, 1978 I was sitting in the gallery of the United States Senate. Working as Associate Director of Government Affairs and lobbyist for the Printing Industries of America. I was there to watch the opening debate of a Labor Law Reform Bill. It had already passed the House of Representatives and was just being introduced in the Senate.
I had been sitting in the gallery for about 15 minutes when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was one of the Senate doorkeepers. He told me I needed to go downstairs to the Vice President’s Senate Office as I had a message there. That certainly got my full attention.
It initially was a mystery to me how the doorkeeper identified me. The gallery was filled completely at the time. I eventually found out my office had been called and they had been able to describe me, and what I was wearing that day.
There I was told to call Tim Kraft, Special Assistant to President Carter in the White House. When I was connected to him he said the President would like for me and my wife to be members of an official delegation to the funeral of former Prime Minister Menzies of Australia. We would be personal representatives of President and Mrs. Carter.
It was about 10:00 AM and Kraft said we would need to be ready for a car to pick us up at our townhouse at 2:00 PM to go to Andrews Air Force Base. He further stated that the chairman of the delegation was Averell Harriman accompanied by his wife Pamela.
It was a small delegation with the other two members being Patrick O’Connor, an attorney and friend of Senator Hubert Humphrey and Vice President Mondale, and Evelyn Colbert, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia, in the State Department.
I quickly accepted and hurriedly began trying to reach my wife who was on the staff of the White House Conference on Small Business. Eventually reaching her we agreed to meet at home as soon as possible. We somehow got there, packed, and were ready when the car arrived with Ms. Colbert and Mr. O’Connor promptly at 2:00 PM.
We arrived at Andrews and were waiting in a lounge until around 4:00 PM when the Harrimans arrived. Then we all boarded Air Force Three, the Secretary of State’s airplane. It had been Air Force One when Lyndon Johnson was president. We departed Andrews on the plane around 7:00 PM.
Immediately upon departure we were given detailed briefing books prepared by the Department of State. These books included information about each person known to be members of the other delegations attending the funeral. Fairly detailed information about the diplomatic status of the United States with other countries in Southeast Asia and member alliances was included.
It was a 24-hour flight to Canberra, Australia, the capital, and location of the American Embassy. There were refueling stops in San Francisco, Hawaii and Guam. I was fortunate to have many long and interesting conversations with both Averell and Pamela Harriman.
Averell seemed surprised that I knew quite a bit about his career prior to his service in the United States Government. His career prior to being Governor of New York, Ambassador to the Soviet Union and serving as Roosevelt’s envoy to Winston Churchill during World War II.
That was when he first met Pamela. She was married to Randolph Churchill and living at #10 Downing Street in London with Winston and Winnie Churchill while Randolph was away serving in the military.
Averell’s earlier career had been as Chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad. When he was in that position he also developed the Sun Valley Ski Resort, the first in the United States, to increase traffic on the Union Pacific. It was also the first ski resort in the world to have chair lifts.
Averell and I discussed many things on our flight. He was particularly interested to know about my relationship with the Carters. He somehow knew that my wife and I had known them since before he was Governor of Georgia.
When I told him that I had traveled with Mrs. Carter during the gubernatorial campaign and had spent time in Plains where the Carters lived he wanted me to tell him about those experiences. He asked me a number of questions about my observations of the Carters and their family at that time. Also, he asked me to describe Plains and the people living there.
He talked to me about the current situation with Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. There was currently some conflict between them and President Carter had asked Averell to try to improve that relationship.
I was fortunate to have some relatively detailed discussions with Pamela about her time at #10 Downing Street, the Churchills and meeting Averell there. Also, talked about her later time in New York City married to Leland Heyward, the Broadway and Hollywood producer.
While she was married to Leland Heyward in the 1960s she owned and ran an antique store, The Jansen Shop, on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Pamela said, “That was the most challenging and difficult undertaking of my life at the time. I learned a lot and enjoyed the many interesting people I met. However, I was glad when that part of my life came to an end.”
That was of course before serving as United States Ambassador to France as she did under President Clinton. That might have changed her mind about the relative difficulty of her undertakings.
The Harriman’s were very involved in fundraising for Democratic candidates and were well known for the elegant fundraisers in their exquisite mansion. It was located on N Street in the Georgetown section of Washington DC with a large terraced yard in the rear unusual for that area. It was said that millions of dollars were paid to view that terraced yard.
After returning to the Embassy in Canberra my wife and I had an opportunity to visit with Ambassador Phillip Alston and his wife Elkin. We had known them from the Carter campaigns for governor and then president. Ambassador Alston had been Finance Chairman for both and was founding partner in a large Atlanta law firm. They had also attended our wedding.
The next morning, we were returning to Washington DC and the embassy staff had arranged an early morning visit to a wildlife preserve prior to takeoff. It was quite intriguing, and we were able to see kangaroo, emus, koala bears and other wildlife in a short amount of time.
On the return flight there was more interesting conversation, and Pamela presented my wife and me with a book on Australia with an inscription from her and Averell.
We had all gone to sleep on the plane when we landed at Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, for a refueling stop.
We were informed several hundred people had come to see Averell. Ms. Colbert told Pamela it really wasn’t necessary to awaken him, but she insisted.
Averell got dressed in his suit and went out to shake hands and say a few words. All the members of our delegation accompanied him and shook some hands and exchanged pleasantries too.
When Averell returned Ms. Colbert said, “Ambassador Harriman this was such a nice gesture for you to awaken, get dressed and greet these people.”
“Not nearly so nice as these hundreds of people coming out at 2:00 AM just to see a representative of the United States whom they often may feel does not even realize they are still here. Giving them some sense of recognition since they are part of an American Territory is the very least that anyone representing our country can and should do for them,” Averell replied.
This reflected the warmth and graciousness I felt for him on our whole journey together. He seemed to have a realization that aside from his official position in the delegation he represented some important history. He was always willing to share some of that but never himself ever drawing attention to his role or importance in any of it. Just responding to the entreaties of others.
Once we landed back at Andrew Air Force Base in DC there were cars waiting to take us our separate ways home. While I never have seen any of those people again, other than Ambassador and Mrs. Alston, my experience of them in this one brief moment has remained with me although mostly dormant until now.
While the most important aspect of this experience was the people I got to meet and with whom I interacted some other aspects are quite memorable as well. Being on Air Force Three, formerly Air Force One, and seeing how it was outfitted.
A private suite and meeting room for the Secretary of State, or in this case Ambassador and Mrs. Harriman. A meeting room with a round conference table which had been the favored arrangement for President Johnson. Fold down beds from enlarged areas where luggage compartments are usually situated. The constant attention from military stewards cooking and serving gourmet meals as well as attending to any other need or wish one might have.
Being a guest at a United States Embassy abroad and seeing how it operated. Having a suit needing to be cleaned and pressed, and having it returned all done in two hours. Sitting with the Ambassador and Mrs. Alston and the other members of the delegation for cocktails and discussing the logistics for the funeral in Melbourne the next day. The graciousness and ambiance of everyone with whom we came into contact.
As mentioned in the beginning there is a level at which the government operates extremely efficiently, and I was fortunate to experience it even for a short time.