March 17, 2010

Ambassador-designate Rice has Maine ties

BY KELLEY BOUCHARD

BY KELLEY BOUCHARD

Portland Press Herald

President-elect Barack Obama's announcement Monday that Susan Rice will be his U.N. ambassador excited Mainers who know of her ties to the state.

Rice, a foreign policy expert who worked in the Clinton administration and advised Obama during his campaign, is the daughter of Lois Dickson Rice, a noteworthy Maine native who grew up in a prominent Portland family.

Susan Rice often visits Maine, where the family has a summer home in Lincolnville. She was in Portland last January, when she was keynote speaker at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration.

"She's brilliant," said Stephen Halpert of Portland, who attended the breakfast at Holiday Inn by the Bay. "She was already very accomplished and an amazing speaker, and now this."

Rachel Talbot Ross, president of the NAACP Portland Branch that hosted the breakfast, said she expected Obama to give Rice a top spot in his administration.

In appointing Rice to be his envoy to the United Nations, Obama elevated the post to a cabinet position. He has called Rice a close and trusted adviser who knows the global challenges faced by the United States.

"Anyone from Maine should be proud because she has such strong Maine roots," Ross said. "She represents the ideal that, as her mother once told her, 'No dream is too bold to embrace.' "

Rice, 44, was assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1997 to 2001 and worked for the National Security Council from 1993 to 1997. She was senior national security adviser for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004. More recently, she was a senior fellow on leave from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

She has a bachelor's degree in history from Stanford University, as well as a master's degree and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, which she attended on a Rhodes Scholarship. She is not related to Condoleezza Rice, current secretary of state.

Her father is Emmett J. Rice, a retired senior vice president at the National Bank of Washington and a former governor of the Federal Reserve. Her husband, Ian Cameron, is executive producer of ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." They have two children.

Neither Rice nor her mother could be reached Monday for comment.

In her speech in Portland last January, Rice said the Democratic candidacies of Obama and Clinton offered "a chance to move a little closer to the promised land" of equality and justice that King espoused.

Rice, who grew up in Washington, D.C., noted Portland's growing racial and ethnic diversity and recalled seeing few black families when she visited her grandparents as a child. "I never dreamed I'd see a room this diverse in Maine," she said.

Rice recalled that her grandparents, David and Mary Dickson, taught their children to work hard, strive for excellence and "never let race be an obstacle or an excuse," she said.

David Dickson came to Portland from Jamaica in 1911, according to newspaper accounts. The next year, he got a job as a janitor at Cressey & Allen, a Congress Street company that sold sheet music and instruments, and he married Mary Daly, also from Jamaica.

He established a community service club for blacks in Portland before World War II and later was active in the NAACP Portland Branch. She was named Maine State Mother of the Year in 1950.

On his janitor's salary, the Dicksons raised five children in Portland's Munjoy Hill neighborhood. The four eldest, all boys, graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick; two became physicians, one became an optometrist and one became a college president.

The youngest of the five, Rice's mother, Lois, was valedictorian of Portland High School in 1950 and class president of Radcliffe College in 1954. She later received honorary doctorates from Bowdoin College and Brown University.

She is a former vice president of the College Board and a former advisory council chairwoman of the National Science Foundation. Now 75, she lives in Washington, D.C., and is a Brookings guest scholar in higher education.

Judith Halpert, 76, grew up with Lois on Munjoy Hill. The women have stayed friends through the years and the Halperts have visited at the Rice family's home in Lincolnville.

Halpert, who is married to Stephen Halpert, said she was pleased when Susan Rice hugged her following her speech in Portland last January, and she's happy that her friend's daughter will represent the United States in an international forum.

"It really is very exciting," she said.

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