WASHINGTON, DC, October 8, 2012 - Before a standing room only crowd at the Institute of World Politics (IWP) 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.”
Her wisdom and experience as the American Ambassador to Switzerland and her tenure in the Reagan Administration were the featured subject of the event; a book signing with Whittlesey for Dr. Thomas J. Carty’s newly released book “Backwards in High Heels: Faith Whittlesey, Reagan’s Madam Ambassador in Switzerland and the West Wing.” The book’s title is derived from a quote Ambassador Whittlesey popularized while campaigning for Reagan in 1984. Speaking before a meeting of the Teamsters Union she famously said, “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.”
Whittlesey served twice as the American Ambassador to Switzerland from 1981 to 1983, and again from 1985 to 1988. In between Ambassador postings, she served as the most senior female member of Reagan’s staff, as the Director of the Office of Public Liaison and Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.
Known as a staunch advocate and persuasive feminine voice for President Reagan’s policies, Whittlesey reminded the audience, during her brief and unscripted remarks, “A democracy is a fragile thing. Freedoms enjoyed are not guaranteed.”
Dr. Carty explained that the book focused on the Ambassador’s unplanned life, public diplomacy, and the Reagan legacy. The author described Whittlesey as a “political entrepreneur” who understood that effective public diplomacy was built on strong relationships. Carty lauded Whittlesey for her gift of emotional intelligence and her appreciation for cultural understanding in bridging diplomatic differences between the United States and Switzerland at a critical stage during the Cold War.
Whittlesey talked of her time in the Reagan Administration and reminded everyone it was a pivotal period in history and that the obstacles at times were daunting. “The challenges that Ronald Reagan encountered were ferocious,” adding, “Many people today don’t realize how difficult the challenges were at the time to succeed,” Whittlesey said. “It came not only from opposition democrats, but also, from within his own party.”
With a look to the next generation of American statesmen, Whittlesey reminded the audience, “IWP trains diplomats in the defense of the principles of morally ordered liberty as set forth in the founding documents.”
Following her tenure in public service, she became the Chairman and President of the American Swiss Foundation. Her tireless efforts to drive the Foundation forward resulted in the creation of the annual Young Leaders Conference, which seeks to foster exchanges and mutual understanding between the next generation of Swiss and American leaders. In 2008, Whittlesey became Chairman Emeritus of the Foundation and she continues to oversee the Young Leaders Conference.
The book chronicling Ambassador Whittlesey’s career is published by Casemate and is available for preorder on Amazon.