PAI Remembers the Inimitable Robin Chandler Duke
The Directors, officers, and staff of PAI mourn the loss of our former National Chair Robin Chandler Duke on February 6th at the age of 92. Robin served as PAI’s National Chair from 1991 to 1997, as a National Co-Chair from 1974 to 1990, and as an actively engaged member of the Board after her service as National Chair. Throughout her leadership of PAI, she was relentless in leveraging her own personal relationships with both Democrats and Republicans and government officials and members of the diplomatic corps the world over and in utilizing the political influence of the organization to expand access to vital family planning and reproductive health services for millions of women and couples around the globe.
Robin was one of the most remarkable—if largely unheralded—women of her generation. As impressively detailed in obituaries in the New York Times and Washington Post, Robin was one of the first women to become a registered representative with the New York Stock Exchange in the early 1950s. She was an anchor and reporter for the nascent “Today” show on NBC in 1952. From the mid-1970s into the 1990s, she served on the boards of some of the world’s largest multinational corporations. In addition to her long career in the male-dominated corporate corridors of power, Robin generously and tirelessly donated her time and talents to a multitude of non-profit organizations and philanthropic foundations. Like PAI, many of these institutions are devoted to improving the health and lives of women and their families around the world.
Robin was widely-known within diplomatic circles through her active involvement in the affairs of the United Nations in New York City. She was appointed by President Clinton as U.S. Ambassador to Norway and served with distinction during the last year of his administration, after holding the rank of ambassador as the head of a U.S. delegation to UNESCO meetings in 1980. This is not to mention her previous service to her country when she assisted her late husband Angier Biddle Duke during his tenure as Chief of Protocol under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and as U.S. Ambassador to three countries.
The roots of her interest and concern in the health and rights of women and girls stem from her personal experience of having an illegal abortion in the 1950s after contraceptive failure, and traveling to Bangladesh to help the refugees during the Pakistani civil war in 1971 with her beloved husband, then President of the International Rescue Committee. In the refugee camps that IRC was running, she discovered that “the women there were having babies right and left. They asked me if I knew any tricks for not getting pregnant. A number of young girls—12 and 13 years old—had been raped by the West Pakistani soldiers and were pregnant; the Muslim families would not take them in . . . So I got a hold of General Draper [at PAI], and he put me in touch with [the International Planned Parenthood Federation] and managed to get doctors out there to perform abortions on these girls.”
An unfortunate commentary on the state of the world that the experiences that impressed Robin so deeply and compelled her to commit to the advancement of women’s rights as her cause—use of rape as a weapon of war and the inability of women to prevent unintended pregnancies and births—remain unresolved almost five decades later. PAI continues to be inspired by Robin’s legacy and works daily to emulate her example.
PAI salutes this extraordinary woman of substance who charted for herself an amazing life of service to women and girls everywhere.