|Faith Ryan Whittlesey|
|13th United States Ambassador to Switzerland|
April 4, 1985 – June 14, 1988
|Preceded by||John Davis Lodge|
|Succeeded by||Philip D. Winn|
|6th Assistant to the President for Public Liaison|
March 3, 1983 – March 19, 1985
|Preceded by||Elizabeth Dole|
|Succeeded by||Linda Chavez|
|11th United States Ambassador to Switzerland|
September 28, 1981 – February 28, 1983
|Preceded by||Richard D. Vine|
|Succeeded by||John Davis Lodge|
|Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
from the 166th district
1973 – 1976
|Preceded by||George R. Johnson|
|Succeeded by||Stephen F. Freind|
February 21, 1939 |
Jersey City, New Jersey
|Spouse(s)||Roger W. Whittlesey (died 1974)|
|Alma mater||Wells College
University of Pennsylvania
The Hague Academy of International Law
Faith Ryan Whittlesey (born 1939) is a former Republican politician and White House Senior Staff member notable for her effort to communicate Reagan's entire policy agenda to U.S. opinion leaders and for bringing together for the first time in the Reagan White House evangelical, Catholic, and other conservative Christian groups who opposed legalized abortion. These groups became a significant component of the Reagan coalition as they grew more politically self-conscious in the 1980s. Whittlesey also organized the White House Central American Outreach Group at the direction of Chief of Staff James Baker to provide information about Reagan's anti-communist policies in the region. Whittlesey served twice for a total of nearly 5 years as U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and also served for 2 years on the Reagan White House Senior Staff as Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.
President Judge Stephen J. McEwen, Jr., of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania noted that Whittlesey "reflected a certain elegance and bright image upon the Reagan Administration, both on the international scene as Ambassador to Switzerland and at the White House as the Director of Public Liaison, an office as little known as its impact was powerful." Whittlesey, a tenacious fighter on behalf of Reagan's policies, was not, however, a stranger to controversy during her time of involvement in the political arena.
White House Liaison Office
Whittlesey was named Assistant to the President for Public Liaison in 1983 at the suggestion of Ronald Reagan's Ambassador to Austria and personal assistant Helene A. von Damm and with the urging of White House Chief of Staff James Baker and Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver.
Her tenure was marked by initiatives to improve the access of conservative Christian believers to the American political process and national policymaking. She was considered their most "aggressive ally" in the White House. She wrote a memo in October 1983 that fundamentalist and evangelical groups had done "little organizational work" for "the 1984 election period" and that to maintain Ronald Reagan's "credibility" with those groups, Catholics in particular, "the tuition tax credit bill must come up for Senate floor action this fall". She noted that school prayer was "not unlike the tuition tax credit issue. Politically we win if we get votes on the Senate floor". In 1985, she sent the anti-abortion film The Silent Scream, which was a documentary of an ultrasound abortion at three months produced in 1984 by anti-abortion activist and former NARAL founder Dr. Bernard Nathanson, to every member of Congress and arranged for a screening at the White House at which Dr. Nathanson presented the film.
Whittlesey focused on the core Reagan agenda during her White House tenure. She also developed active White House outreach to "Reagan Democrats." She clashed with some other members of the Reagan White House staff whom she regarded as "largely Washington permanent government party functionaries not very committed to advocating the President's policies in a serious or consistent way."
At the direction of White House Chief of Staff, James Baker, Whittlesey also spent a good deal of time organizing communication of information about Reagan's overall policies in Central America and, in particular, the anticommunist "Contras" in Nicaragua. In 1983 she established the White House Outreach Working Group on Central America to garner increased private sector understanding of Reagan's policies, including working with, among many other individuals and groups, the American Security Council Foundation, to produce anti-Sandinista propaganda (what she would call "truth-telling") films, and the Council for National Policy to produce materials that revealed the Marxist–Leninist orientation of the Sandanista movement. Among those groups that participated in the Outreach Group effort was the AFL-CIO because "the Sandinistas were against free labor unions." Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Constantine Menges cited "the very effective public outreach staff headed by Ambassador Faith Whittlesey" in his reflections on Reagan foreign policy.
Despite its effectiveness, Whittlesey says the Outreach Group was shut down in 1985 when Donald Regan took over as Chief of Staff and the White House "started the brown bag operation with Ollie North. What we were doing was completely open and above board. It was an honest effort to change minds and hearts and to provide a forum for truth telling". According to Whittlesey, "the Washington establishment, especially Democratic but also most of the Republican, was opposed to, wanted to downplay, or gave the silent treatment to Reagan's Central American anti-communist policies."
Later, when asked about Iran-Contra she said: "I had no knowledge of the Iran-Contras connection. I had no involvement in it, nor was I asked to be a part of it." The final House report on Iran-Contra concluded that Whittlesey unsuccessfully attempted to help Oliver North obtain a U.S. passport for a fake Saudi prince who claimed to have knowledge of the locations of hostages being held in Lebanon. Whittlesey has repeatedly and emphatically denied this charge, for which she maintains no proof was produced, as a politically motivated attempt to discredit her White House Outreach Group initiative, which had been "a legitimate and in every respect legal attempt to communicate Reagan's anti-communist policy in Central America."
Ambassador to Bern
Whittlesey was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland under Ronald Reagan from 1981–83 and again from 1985-88. In her first term as Swiss Ambassador she initiated negotiations in an acrimonious dispute between the U.S. and Switzerland that later led to the signing of a "Memorandum of Understanding on Insider Trading," the first major changing of the strict tradition of Swiss banking secrecy. Of this memorandum, Ambassador Jean Zwahlen, later a Member of the Governing Board of the Swiss National Bank, wrote her: "I still keep a vivid memory of your skill to help delicate negotiations in the 80s." She was a particularly active Ambassador and traveled often around Switzerland explaining and advocating Reagan's policies and developing contacts with Swiss opinion leaders.
While she was the Director of the Liaison office (1983–85), there were conflicts with the staff of Reagan's Chief of Staff James A. Baker III and his deputy Michael Deaver, which led to Senator Arlen Specter and others urging her to take a federal judgeship on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. After careful consideration, she declined the nomination. A judicial appointment would have effectively removed her from the public policy and political arena, which she did not wish. She had taken the job of Public Liaison because of "a profound sense of obligation to the grassroots voters who had elected Reagan believing him to be a man of deep principle and traditional faith." Infighting in the White House continued, however. She eventually decided to return to Switzerland after Donald Regan became Chief of Staff, replacing James A. Baker. Whittlesey resumed her duties representing the U.S. in Bern for a second term in 1985. She was the first to greet President Reagan as he stepped off the plane in Geneva for his meeting with Gorbachev in November, 1985.
After the Democrats took control of the Senate in 1986, giving them control of both Houses of Congress, allegations were made to Attorney General Edwin Meese that Whittlesey had granted diplomatic favors for private contributions to her State Department-administered representational fund and that she had also obstructed justice. Meese "found no 'reasonable grounds' to pursue allegations that" Whittlesey "mishandled entertainment funds at the embassy or improperly aided contributors to the funds" in contravention of the independent counsel statute. Hearings into the subject were held by a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, but the hearings failed to produce substantiation of the charges and went nowhere. The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial entitled "True Grit," echoing a popular movie of the time, dismissed the investigation. "The U.S. Justice Department has now filed a notification in Federal Circuit Court in Washington clearing the ambassador of any wrongdoing and vindicating the view that there was a whole lot less to the whole affair than had met either the eye or ear....It is impressive to come out of such an investigation clean and clear."
Former National Security Adviser and Secretary of the Interior William P. Clark, Jr. believes that the allegations were a product of a "campaign of leaks" by Baker, Deaver, David Gergen, and Dick Darman to discredit ideologues in the administration they did not like. William F. Buckley, Jr. asserted the view that the investigation had been driven by "two forces, one of them galactic, the other merely torrential . . . The first is the disposition of the State Department bureaucracy to make things hard for political appointees. The second is the disposition of all of Washington to make things hard for Mr. Reagan." For her part Whittlesey attributes the allegations to disgruntled career State Department employees who disagreed with Reagan's policies and her personnel decisions as chief of mission, but in the end the constant friction, according to one source, led to her resignation.
However, with the prospect of the change of administration, and having served for a total of nearly five years in the post, she returned to the U.S. in July 1988, officially vindicated. Widely regarded by political admirers and detractors alike as a most effective U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, shortly after her return to New York City she was asked to assume the Presidency of the American Swiss Foundation by its board.
Whittlesey's diplomatic career resumed very briefly in 2001 when she was named by President George W. Bush to be an At-Large Member of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. She continued in this position as needed throughout the Bush Presidency. A strong supporter of the Second Amendment, she has been quoted as saying about the treaty: "This document by the U.N. freezes the last coup. It favors established governments, while taking away rights from individuals. It does not recognize any value higher than peace, such as liberty."
Whittlesey popularized a quote about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire that is often attributed to her: "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels." The official Ginger Rogers website attributes the origin of the quote to Bob Thaves who wrote in a 1982 Frank and Ernest comic strip about Fred Astaire: "Sure he was great, but don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards…and in high heels." The attribution to Whittlesey traces to a speech she delivered to a Teamsters Union meeting in 1984 where she was representing Reagan. Sometimes the quote is also attributed to Ann Richards, who later used the line in her 1988 Democratic National Convention speech, but Richards said she got the line from television journalist Linda Ellerbee who said she heard the line from a fellow passenger on an airplane.
While in law school, to earn money Whittlesey became a substitute teacher in the City of Philadelphia (1962–64) because: "[i]n my last year of law school [the female students] were advised by the law school administration not to even come to the [law firm job] interviews because we would not be hired". Years later when working in the Liaison Office she declared that feminism was a "straitjacket" for women because, she claimed, it reduced rather than enhanced legal rights women had previously enjoyed in child custody and marital support cases before states enacted versions of the Equal Rights Amendment. She declared, "Ronald Reagan honored the role of full-time homemaker and her rights in Social Security and income tax in the face of elite feminists' demeaning of full-time mothers."
Whittlesey worked her entire adult life, including when pregnant and after her husband died in 1974. She canvassed door-to-door for her 1972 legislative race while pregnant with her third child, William. In 1985, when looking at the trendline that showed that half of all pre-school children had mothers in the workforce, she assured Reagan that once the economy picked up "all those women can go home and look after their own children". As a long-time working mother herself, Whittlesey asserted this statement was taken out of context and did not reflect her intent of expanding choices, professional and personal, for women. The statement continued, "They could care for their children themselves if they wished to do so because their husbands would have opportunities again in a thriving economy." Whittlesey was the only woman on Reagan's Senior White House Staff during her service there. According to David Broder, "Whittlesey asserted in 1980 her position on women's rights and her fight as a woman to be effective politically, 'I sympathize with some of the goals of the women's movement, but they choose not to associate with me, so that's where we are. I find myself in many closed rooms filled with men, but I'm rarely invited to women's movement's functions, because I am pro-life and do not endorse feminist ideology of victimhood.' "
In 1982 Whittlesey became the first woman commencement speaker at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. In 1989 Whittlesey became the first female member of the all-male Union League Club of New York.
Reagan's core agenda
Whittlesey was elected an alternate delegate from Pennsylvania to the 1976 Republican National Convention and as a delegate in 1980 and 1984. As an elected delegate at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit, Whittlesey co-chaired with Congressman Jack Kemp the Subcommittee for Foreign Policy and Defense of the Platform Committee and delivered Reagan's defense plank to the Convention. Regarded as a "conviction conservative," Whittlesey strongly identified with Reagan's core agenda, which she described as "support for the peaceful defeat of the Soviet Union without commitment of U.S. troops in combat, defense of life, opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment with its hidden agenda of tax-funded abortion and same-sex marriage, decentralized government, lower taxes and reduced government regulation of the private sector, school prayer, defeat of Marxism-Leninism in its various permutations and manifestations, individual Second Amendment rights, the establishment of official diplomatic recognition of the Vatican, support for tuition tax credits for parochial schooling." After leaving public service, she maintained that much of Reagan's core agenda remained to be implemented and that it ought to serve as a continuing issue blueprint for the Republican party.
After completing her second tour as United States Ambassador to Switzerland, Whittlesey was named as Chairman and President of the American Swiss Foundation in New York. For more than two decades, she worked "to protect and strengthen the friendship between the United States and Switzerland," which in 2010 was the largest direct foreign investor in the U.S. Whittlesey conceived of and established a bipartisan young leaders' program that for 22 years has brought together young opinion leaders and professionals from Switzerland and the United States for an intensive, week-long conference in Switzerland. Participants meet senior public and private sector officials, engage in discussions on issues of the day, and build friendships. There are now over 900 alumni of this program.
Continuing as a member of the Pennsylvania bar, Whittlesey also served on numerous corporate boards after she left government service.
Whittlesey was born Faith Ryan in 1939 in Jersey City, New Jersey to Martin Roy Ryan of Maybrook, New York, and Amy Jerusha (Covell) of Pope's Mills, New York. She grew up in Williamsville, New York, and graduated with honors from Williamsville Central High School in 1956. In 1955 she was selected to participate in the American Field Service program to Flensburg, Germany. In 1958 she participated in the Experiment in International Living program to Austria. She earned a full-tuition scholarship to attend Wells College in Aurora, New York, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and cum laude in 1960 with a BA in history. She also earned a full-tuition scholarship to the law school at the University of Pennsylvania and a Ford Foundation grant to attend a program at The Hague Academy of International Law in The Netherlands. Whittlesey is also an accomplished classical pianist and former piano teacher. She has one sibling, Thomas Martin Ryan, who graduated Yale College magna cum laude in 1963, received an MA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1963 she married Roger Weaver Whittlesey of Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania, a graduate of the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia and Bowdoin College in Maine. Roger Whittlesey was an advertising executive from an illustrious family. They had 3 children and 10 grandchildren. The marriage lasted 11 years, not ending till Roger Whittlesey committed suicide in March 1974.
Because her father was a "Roman Catholic in the Irish tradition" it has been incorrectly assumed that Whittlesey grew up as a Catholic, when in fact her mother's family did not approve of her father's Catholicism. "[S]o he left the Catholic Church," Whittlesey explained in her Memoirs. "He attended the Methodist Church with my mother and brother, Tom, and me. I was thus raised as a Methodist. As a family we went to the Williamsville, New York, Methodist Church every Sunday. I went to regular Sunday school and sang in the choirs." Her husband's family was Presbyterian. Whittlesey converted to Roman Catholicism in 2000 in Staten Island, New York, having been greatly influenced as a result of her Reagan administration association with John Cardinal O'Connor of New York. She was baptized and confirmed by Father Michael Reilly, principal of St. Joseph's By-the-Sea High School in Staten Island, New York.
For 19 years, Whittlesey served as President and Chairman of the Board of the American Swiss Foundation; beginning in February 2008, she became Chairman Emeritus. She was a member of the Board of Directors (and former Chairman for 3 years) of Christian Freedom International, an organization dedicated to assisting persecuted Christians around the world. She is a member of the Council of American Ambassadors and also a member of the Board of Advisers of the Reagan Alumni Association. She also served as a member—and for 6 years as Chairman—of the Board of the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C.. In 2012, she joined the Board of the Rockford Institute in Rockford, Illinois, and, in 2013, the Advisory Board of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity in Washington, D.C. She is a longtime member of the University Club of Washington, D.C., and for several years has served on the Newsmax International Advisory Board.
Honors Whittlesey has received over the years include these:
- a Ford Foundation grant to attend The Hague Academy of International Law, The Netherlands (1962),
- selection by the American Council of Young Political Leaders as a member of a delegation traveling to China (1979),
- four honorary doctorates (from Widener University, 1982; Boston University, 1985; King's College, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 1986; and the Institute of World Politics, Washington, D.C., 2012),
- The Wells College Outstanding Alumnus Award (1984),
- the Certificate of Appreciation from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America (1985) in recognition of her "outstanding contribution to the trade union movement" and particularly the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,
- the Reagan Revolution Medal of Honor (1989),
- At-Large Member of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (2001),
- the Stratton Prize for Intercultural Achievement (2003), received at the Harvard Club in Boston, in recognition of her work to promote better U.S.-Swiss understanding,
- the Ball for Life Award (2003) to benefit Good Counsel Homes at the New York Athletic Club,
- Williamsville Central (now Williamsville South) High School (New York) Wall of Fame Award (2003),
- the Congress of Racial Equality Public Service Award (2004) at the Harlem Museum of the City of New York,
- selection by the American Council of Young Political Leaders as a member of a delegation traveling to Japan (2005),
- the naming of a new Tea Rose, "the Faith Whittlesey rose," in her honor by the American Rose Society (2006)in New York City,
- Republicans Abroad Switzerland Testimonial Dinner honoree (2006), Geneva, Switzerland,
- serving on the U.S. Executive Committee of the Calvin Quincentennial (2009) held in Geneva, Switzerland,
- Henry Morrison Flager Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, Luncheon honoree (2009), Palm Beach, Florida,
- the Christian Freedom International Freedom Award (2009) for her service on behalf of persecuted Christians worldwide,
- the International Friend of the Rose Award (2010), presented in New York on behalf of the Great Rosarians of the World Committee by Clair Martin, Shannon Curator of Roses and Rose Gardens, Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens,
- Tell Award presented by Ambassador of Switzerland Manuel Sager in Washington, D.C. (2011) for her work on creating better understanding of Switzerland in the U.S., and
- Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at a dinner for 400 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC (2012).
Coincident with the Award presentation on October 4, 2012, a new study of her life and career, Backwards in High Heels: Faith Whittlesey, Reagan's Madam Ambassador in Switzerland and the White House, by Professor Thomas Carty of Springfield College (Massachusetts) was published.
Before a standing room only crowd at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC on October 5, President Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to Switzerland, Faith Whittlesey, offered up some sage advice on lessons learned from a lifetime career in public service, “Listen carefully, read widely, listen to diverse opinions, and be somewhat humble about yourself and our country.”
After her substitute teaching job in 1963 and 1964, Whittlesey held a variety of governmental positions: Special Assistant Attorney General in Pennsylvania assigned to the Pennsylvania Banking Code Revision Project (1964–65), law clerk for Federal District Court Judge Francis L. Van Dusen, E.D.P.A. (1965), a Special Assistant Attorney General assigned to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (1967–70), Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (1970–1972). In 1972 she was elected as a Representative in the Pennsylvania Legislature representing the 166th Legislative District in Delaware County. In 1974 she was reelected to the Legislature. In 1975 she was elected to the Delaware County Board of Commissioners, now known as the Delaware County Council and reelected in 1979. (Delaware County was at the time larger in population than 5 states of the Union.) She served alternately as Chairman and Vice Chairman. She lost the 1978 Republican primary for Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania.
While serving in the Delaware County government, Whittlesey briefly held her first job in the private sector, taking a part-time job as the token Republican at the law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen LLP in Philadelphia. After leaving Switzerland, Whittlesey joined the New York-based law firm of Myerson & Kuhn until its 1990 bankruptcy filing In 1998 she started her own consulting firm, Maybrook Associates. She has also served on several corporate boards over the years, including the U.S. Advisory Board for Nestle. Since 1989 she has been a board member of Schindler Elevator Corporation USA, headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey. Since 1992 she has served as a board member of Valassis Communications, Inc., headquartered in Livonia, Michigan.
She was admitted to the bar of Pennsylvania in 1964 and remains in non-resident active status.
Writings about and by Whittlesey
Books and forewords
- Thomas Carty,Backwards in High Heels: Reagan's Madam Ambassador in Switzerland and the West Wing (Casemate Publishing,Philadelphia & Oxford, 2012) ISBN 9781612001593)
- Soviet global strategy and the Caribbean: America by the throat? , Rockford Institute, 1984. OCLC 30844100
- Faith Whittlesey, Edson I. Gaylord. Straight talk on the economy: The capital goods industry between the great depressions of the 1930s and the 1980s, Rockford Institute, 1984. OCLC 30844105
- Sustainable Rose Garden: Exploring 21st Century Environmental Rose Gardening edited by Pat Shanley & Peter Kukielski, foreword by Faith Whittlesey (Manhattan Rose Society Publications, 2008)
- Switzerland under siege, 1939-1945 : a neutral nation's struggle for survival edited by Leo Schelbert, foreword by Faith Whittlesey (Picton Press, 2000) ISBN 0-89725-414-7
- "America must treat its Swiss friend with care," by Faith Whittlesey
- "Brazil Goes Red" By Faith Whittlesey
- "Small Arms in a Big, Brutal World," by Faith Whittlesey
- "No More Embassies For Sale, Please" By Faith Whittlesey
- "And the Hillary Factor" by Faith Whittlesey
- "Nazi Gold," by Faith Whittlesey, from The Wall Street Journal (1996)
- "Brazil's gathering clouds" by Faith Whittlesey, from The Washington Times, October 1, 2002, page A17
- "Switzerland on Trial," Ambassadors REVIEW,Council of American Ambassadors, 1997.
- "Switzerland and the Honor of America," Ambassadors REVIEW,Council of American Ambassadors, 1998.
Whittlesey's Collected Papers are housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University.