Remembering Robin Chandler Duke

As the University Librarian at Duke one of my favorite duties was talking people into donating their personal collections to the University Library.  My staff had great intelligence about who we should go after to strengthen the collections, so I was always armed with rationale(s) for the fit at Duke.

The passing of Robin Chandler Duke on Saturday reminded of those encounters with donors.  Robin was the widow of Angier Biddle Duke, Chief of Protocol in the Kennedy White House and Ambassador to El Salvador, Spain, Denmark, and Morocco from the Truman through the Johnson Administrations.  And one of THE DUKES—the family of the founder of the university.

President of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, shakes hands with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his departure from the White House, following a state dinner in his honor; President John F. Kennedy stands at center left. US Chief of Protocol, Angier Biddle Duke, stands at right (back to camera); Robin Chandler Duke (wife of Ambassador Duke) stands at far left. North Portico, White House, Washington, D.C. Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston National Archives and Records Administration http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHP-KN-C28877.aspx

President of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, shakes hands with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his departure from the White House, following a state dinner in his honor; President John F. Kennedy stands at center left. US Chief of Protocol, Angier Biddle Duke, stands at right (back to camera); Robin Chandler Duke (wife of Ambassador Duke) stands at far left. North Portico, White House, Washington, D.C. June 3, 1963.
Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. National Archives and Records Administration

We already had the Ambassador’s personal papers in our holdings, so Robin’s were a logical quest.

I remember my first visit to her apartment at River House in New York City, sitting in her sunroom overlooking the East River.  Grace, beauty, charm, wit, and intelligence are my memories of that first encounter.  She assumed, I think, that I was most interested in whatever of the Ambassador’s papers she still had, and was surprised about how much I knew about her own career.

Robin was a newspaper and television journalist, vice president for public relations at Pepsi-Cola, active in organizations supporting abortion rights and legal equality for women.  The best part of that first visit was seeing evidence of “documentation.”  She saved everything!  And her life and letters complemented her husband’s ambassadorial life, contributed to the burgeoning women’s studies collection, and her Pepsi years added to the strength of the one of the best advertising collections in the country.

That first visit led to a deed of gift and the beginning of a relationship that was punctuated by regular deliveries of boxes of her papers and photographs as she continued to sort through her collection.  Whenever I was in New York, I would stop for a quick visit to catch up.  And when I made the move to the New York Public Library, she was among the special guests invited to a reception hosted by another “Dukie,” Ellie Elliot.

A while ago I wrote about my afternoon with Lauren Bacall and now Robin Chandler Duke.  One lucky guy to have spent time with two extraordinary women!

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