Alexandria resident, the Honorable Robert E. White, former Ambassador to Paraguay and to El Salvador and a 1952 graduate of Saint Michael's College, was named recipient of the highest honor given to a Saint Michael's graduate, the Col. Cook Award. The award was presented at Saint Michael's Reunion festivities held on June 8-10.
The award given to Ambassador White, the 2012 Col. Donald G. Cook '56 Award, was named in honor of the Vietnam Veteran Donald Cook (SMC grad of 1956) who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a POW, "for repeatedly assuming more than his share of manual labor in order that the other POWs could improve the state of their health. Colonel Cook willingly and unselfishly put the interest of his comrades before his own well-being and, eventually, his life."
In the award citation, presented by Angela Armour, SMC Director of Alumni and Parent Relations, Ambassador White was termed one of the most accomplished graduates Saint Michael's College ever produced.
"For decades, Ambassador White has been involved in promoting grassroots democracy in Central and South America and has given a voice to citizens who don't normally have one."
Ambassador White's lesson for diplomacy
In accepting the award, Ambassador White said, "Col. Donald Cook was an outstanding alumnus of Saint Michael's College, and what he did was in the great tradition of the United States military." The Ambassador continued with a brief lesson in diplomacy.
He recalled his SMC history professor Dr. Armand Citarella, who told the class, "A number of things happened in 1492 of which the discovery of America was the least important; that," the Ambassador said, "was one of the great attention-getting lines in the great tradition of liberal arts teaching."
He said, We all love our country, we are all part of this country, and we all owe loyalty to the state; we must vote and pay taxes, but once the vote is in "we must hold the representatives accountable."
"It is disturbing that national security," he said, "has become this icon," has made us suspicious, has made us think “my absolute security is your insecurity. Instead," he said, “we should be interested in shared security - the outlines of a world community are discernible," he said in challenge to his fellow alumni.
Ambassador White bio
Ambassador White's served two years in the U.S. Navy before attending Saint Michael's. He was a hockey player at Saint Michael's, a Who's Who Award winner, Editor in Chief of the Shield (yearbook), and he earned a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University (1954). He had many appointments in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1955 onward, culminating in being named Ambassador to Paraguay (1977) and to El Salvador (early 1980s).
"He was famously recalled by President Regan for wanting to find a peaceful way to end the brutal Salvadoran conflict," Ms. Armour said.
Ambassador White has been on high profile missions, oncluding one to Cuba seeking an end to U.S. over flights. "He has found himself," the citation stated, "in highly dangerous situations with guerilla militias and in sensitive political situations with rebel leaders" in his drive to promote legitimacy and integrity in emerging democracies in Latin America.
He served as senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and in 1989 became president of the Center for International Policy, working for transparency and accountability in U.S. foreign policy. The Center promotes human rights, peace and demilitarization around the world, and in 2003 was awarded a major grant to increase citizen participation in democratic institutions in Central America.
Recipient of honorary degrees from four colleges, including Saint Michael's, Ambassador White was a charter member, inducted into the inaugural SMC Academic Hall of Fame in 2002. He was also the college's first Fulbright Scholar, and has spoken at SMC commencement, reunion and alumni events.
Robert White and his wife Maryanne have three daughters who graduated from Saint Michael's, Claire '81, MaryLouise '83 and Laura '85.