Remarks at the Funeral of Ambassador Pamela Harriman
We gather in tribute to Pamela Harriman, patriot and public servant, American Ambassador and citizen of the world, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and sister, and for so many of us here, a cherished friend. She adopted our country with extraordinary devotion. Today her country bids her farewell with profound gratitude.
Hillary and I have often talked about what made Pamela so remarkable. It was more than her elegance, as unforgettable as that was. It was more than the lilt of her voice and her laughter, more even, than the luminous presence that could light up a room, a convention hall, or even the City of Lights itself. It was more than her vibrant sense of history and the wisdom that came to her from the great events she had lived and those she had helped to shape, from the Battle of Britain to the peace accord in Bosnia. I think it was most of all that she was truly indomitable.
One day the train she was on to London was bombed twice, during the Blitz. She simply brushed off the shards of glass, picked herself up, and went to the office to do her work at the Ministry of Supply. She was 21 years old.
More than 40 years later, all of us who knew her saw the same resolve and strength again and again, most tenderly, in the way she gave not only love but dignity and pride to Averell who, as long as he was with her, was at the summit, even to his last days.
In 1991, she put her indomitability to a new test in American politics, forming an organization with a name that made the pundits chuckle because it did seem a laughable oxymoron in those days: Democrats for the Eighties. For members of our party at that low ebb, she became organizer, inspirer, sustainer, a captain of our cause in a long march back to victory. She lifted our spirits and our vision.
I will never forget how she was there for Hillary and for me in 1992: wise counsel, friend, a leader in our ranks who never doubted the outcome, or if she did, covered it so well with her well-known bravado that no one could have suspected. Today I am here in no small measure because she was there.
She was one of the easiest choices I made for any appointment when I became President. As she left to become our Ambassador to France, she told us all with a smile, "Now my home in Paris will be your home. Please come and visit, but not all at once." [Laughter] It seemed she had been having us at her home all at once for too many years. So a lot of us took her up on her invitation to come to Paris. After Hillary and I had been there the first time, I must say I wondered which one of us got the better job. [Laughter]
In many ways her whole life was a preparation for these last 4 years of singular service and achievement. She represented America with wisdom, grace, and dignity, earning the confidence of France's leaders, the respect of its people, the devotion of her staff.
Born a European, an American by choice, as she liked to say, Pamela worked hard to build the very strongest ties between our two countries and continents. She understood that to make yourself heard you had to know how to listen. And with the special appreciation of one not native born, she felt to her bones America's special leadership role in the world.
Today, we see her legacy in the growing promise of a Europe undivided, secure, and free, a legacy that moved President Chirac last week to confer upon Pamela the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, France's highest award. He said then that seldom since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had America been so well served in France.
There is one image of Pamela Harriman I will always treasure. I can see her now, standing on the windswept beaches of Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. She had told many of us of the long, tense night in England half a century before, as they waited for news about the transports plowing toward the shore, filled with young soldiers, American, British, and Free French. Now, 50 years later, history had come full circle, and she was there as an active life force in the greatest continuing alliance for freedom the world has ever known.
I was so glad that Randolph read a few moments ago from the book of Sir Winston Churchill's essays that Pamela loved so well and gave to so many of us who were her friends. The passage he read not only describes her own life, it is her valediction to us, her final instruction about how we should live our lives. And I think she would like this service to be not only grand, as it is, but to be a final instruction from her to us about what we should now do.
Let me quote just a portion of what was said a few moments ago. "Let us reconcile ourselves to the mysterious rhythm of our destinies such as they must be in this time—in this world of time and space. Let us treasure our joys but not bewail our sorrows. The glory of light cannot exist without the shadows. Life is a whole, and the journey has been well worth making."
Throughout her glorious journey, Pamela Harriman lightened the shadows of our lives. Now she is gone. In the mysterious rhythm of her destiny, she left us at the pinnacle of her public service, with the promise of her beloved America burning brighter because of how she lived in her space and time. What a journey it was and well worth making.
May God comfort her family and countless friends, and may He keep her soul indomitable forever.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:26 a.m. at Washington National Cathedral. In his remarks, he referred to Pamela Harriman's late husband, W. Averell Harriman; her grandson, Randolph Churchill; and President Jacques Chirac of France.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Funeral of Ambassador Pamela Harriman Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/223729