Pamela Harriman: “Clever as a Cat”

The 1997 death of Pamela Harriman, then U.S. Ambassador to France and widow of statesman Averell Harriman, was a loss to the horse world as well as diplomatic circles. In partnership with grandprix rider Katie Monahan Prudent, she fielded show jumpers such as Special Envoy and The Governor, l985 Horse of the Year.

English-born, and born to the saddle, she rode with the Middleburg and Piedmont hunts in the l970s and early ’80s before political activities reduced her riding to weekends on the farm. She is remembered for approaching fences in the hunt field much as she approached life, with a devil-may-care determination.

During an interview with writer Kate Tyndall for a l992 Spur feature, Harriman spoke of her small hunter mare, Prospect, bred near her childhood home in Dorset: “She is remarkable, tremendously fast and clever as a cat.”

Many said the same of the mare’s rider.

Harriman admitted to Tyndall that she “drove others crazy” in the hunt field “because here was this little horse and then suddenly they would find it creeping up and zipping past them over those fences.

“We had a lot of fun.”

When it comes down to it, that’s not a bad epitaph.

On hearing of her death, Secretary of State Madeline Albright made the following statement:

“With the death of Ambassador Pamela Harriman, America has lost a remarkable representative, the State Department has lost one of its most effective diplomats, and I have lost a friend.

“Ambassador Harriman’s life spanned two great countries, two continents, and, although anyone who saw her would never believe it, seven decades. She was a central figure in the history of this century. Her recollections of the beginning of World War II and her careful analysis of the U.S. role in world affairs added depth to our understanding of our times.

“Former Secretary Warren Christopher [said]her performance as U.S. Ambassador in Paris was a fitting capstone to years of public and philanthropic service.

“In the capital of America’s oldest ally, she played an important role in our shared effort to bring peace to Bosnia and to pursue President Clinton’s high priority to forge a Europe that would be, for the first time, fully united, fully secure and fully free.

“When I visited her in Paris, I was deeply impressed by the respect and affection with which her staff held her and how much the Embassy staff admired and loved her. And, as an American, I was proud to witness the very high regard in which she was held by the French Government and its people.

“Amidst the high-tech gadgetry of the Information Age, she was a master of the personal touch that separates simple communications from true diplomacy.
Not long before she died, during my first full day as Secretary, I met with Ambassador Harriman in Washington. We discussed the warm, albeit spirited, nature of U.S.-French relations, and we exchanged plans about what she would do when she returned to Washington to continue her support for the Administration and the United States.

“I was so looking forward to working with her when she came back here. I am deeply sadden by her death but profoundly grateful for her life and for her service to the Department and to our country.”