By Patricia H Kushlis
Kathryn Davis came from a line of women’s rights activists and internationalists. Among her earliest memories were those of her suffragette mother demonstrating in downtown Philadelphia for the women’s right to vote. True, I read that in her Wikipedia biography but Mrs. Davis also told me the story herself and if my memory serves, she proudly showed me a black and white photo of her mother’s political activism in action.
Had Mrs. Davis been of my generation, I have to wonder if she would have retained her Republican identification: her viewpoint and that of today’s Republican Party seem so antithetical.
From 1969-1975 Katheryn Davis’ husband Shelby Cullom Davis was US Ambassador to Switzerland, a country where the couple had first met as university students. He made his fortune in the financial insurance business on Wall Street turning a considerable sum of money from his wife’s family into considerably more. Presumably he bought the Ambassadorship through donations to the Nixon for President Campaign. That’s how those positions happen. The Davis’s knew the right people and well, money would have likely quietly changed hands moving from their considerable assets to the campaign’s seemingly effortlessly.
I never had the impression, however, that Ambassador Davis was simply after the title or that he wanted to run things at Jubeläiumstrasse 93. More likely both he and his wife had a long standing love affair with the country, wanted access to the people who mattered and simply liked the upper class Swiss life style. He had a strong career deputy named Richard Vine who later returned as Ambassador. Davis left the running of the embassy to Vine as well as dealing with the Swiss on substantive issues (the main one being banking secrecy – my how things don’t change).
From one Canton to the next
So the Ambassador and Mrs. Davis traveled the country – from one canton to another – showing the stars and stripes as the Viet Nam War wound down and meeting and greeting local officials, members of the general citizenry as well as patting the heads of the farmers’ well kept cows.
When in Bern, the Davises were gracious and generous hosts and kind to Embassy staff.
I wonder had Mrs. Davis been born just two or three decades later whether she would have pursued her own career – either as a career diplomat (she had the background – including a stint at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and a PhD in international relations from the University of Geneva - and the intelligence to do so) or in the private sector - not just as helpmate to and source of investment capital for her husband. At least, she would have had the choice.