Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
May 20, 2011

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. (Applause.) It is wonderful to see all of you here, and I want to begin where I should, by thanking Marcee. Her unwavering commitment to the preservation of history and to the beauty of these rooms is just a great testament to her love of her work and of the mission that she has undertaken by assuming this responsibility. I also want to thank Carlyle Eubank, who is leading an ambitious agenda for the fine arts committee. And I look around here and see a number of the staff and tour guides who work with Marcee to share these beautiful rooms with people from around the world. Every time they bring someone through here, as we talked about in the video, they help to broaden appreciation of our nation’s values and history.

I want to thank Adrienne Arsht, along with our newest Endowment Fund campaign co-chairs David Rubenstein, Sally Pingree, Fred Eychaner, Bren Simon, and the estate of Hugh Trumbull Adams. And I want to thank Albert Small and the Endowment Fund for their important work in creating this new terrace, which is just going to be stunning, Albert.

Now, we call this the Benjamin Franklin Room, and it’s seen a lot of distinguished visitors in addition to all of you – kings and presidents and prime ministers, foreign ministers, the Dalai Lama. Last year alone, we held more than 400 events and welcomed more than 90,000 guests to the 8th floor. And we often use this for critical meetings. For example, we just hosted a Chinese delegation for the third-in-a-row meeting of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue here. So it is no exaggeration to say that the backdrop of American art and architecture is really an integral part of how we practice diplomacy because these rooms introduce foreign dignitaries and other visitors to our history and culture.

Now, whether it’s a recently loaned letter that was sent from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington asking for an opinion on a patent – that was back when the Secretary of State actually oversaw the issuance of patents, and I’m so glad we no longer do – (laughter) – or the rare, freshly donated pier table that was crafted just after the Revolutionary War and now sits in the James Madison Room and so much more. Each piece tells part of the story of America.

And when I started this job just over two years ago, I was surprised to learn that there was no endowment to support the Diplomatic Rooms or this collection. Marcee and her team were forced to make difficult decisions every year about which pieces would be conserved and which would not. And only the most urgent repairs and upkeep to the rooms could be undertaken. And we knew something had to be done, and I knew a little bit about endowments because I was privileged to finish off the White House Endowment that had been started by Mrs. Nixon when I was First Lady. And so I’m a big believer that one of the great characteristics of our country are the public-private partnerships that we so take for granted. And so the endowment for the White House was completed, and I really thought that we needed an endowment for the Diplomatic Rooms.

So with Marcee’s guidance and the leadership of Ambassador Capricia Marshall and the Office of Protocol, I helped to launch the Patrons of Diplomacy last October. This special initiative will, for the first time, create an endowment that will care for the rooms and the collections year in and year out. It will ensure, with your help, that these rooms and the history inside them are protected for more people to enjoy. And thanks to all of you, we’ve already raised $15 million toward our $20 million goal. And the person who deserves the original credit for transforming these rooms was former Deputy Chief of Protocol Clem Conger. And he once said about donating to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, quote, “One, it’s a tax deduction,” – (laughter) – “two, it’s patriotic; three, it’s a matter of family pride.”

Well, I would add one more to Clem’s pillars: It’s about showing the world the depth of American artistry, ideas, and creativity. And sometimes when we’re in one of these rooms having a meeting or a dinner, a lunch or a breakfast, grappling with some very challenging problems, I take a lot of comfort from looking around the room and seeing a painting or a piece of porcelain or a beautifully crafted piece of furniture, and I’m reminded of all that has gone on before us, all of our history and all of our values, and the importance of what we do in this time to continue the work that so importantly contributes to the world and to our future as Americans, because these works represent the best America has to offer.

Because of what you’ve done, you have all contributed to diplomacy, to the American story, and to what we’re trying to accomplish together, and I’m grateful to each and every one of you, and I want to honor your commitment to this rich history and your understanding of the importance of preserving it. And I want to thank you for helping us and having the vision to see what the Patrons of Diplomacy means. I’m very humbled to have you as our partners, and I am very excited to see this work really come to fruition with all of the wonderful possibilities that it opens up for us now and for years and years to come. I will be in – where am I going?

STAFF: The Jefferson Room.

SECRETARY CLINTON: The Jefferson Room. (Laughter.) What’s the difference between a terrorist and a Protocol officer? You can negotiate with a terrorist. (Laughter and Applause.) And so I know Protocol has got this all arranged. Right, Capricia? (Laughter.)

So I will go into the Jefferson Room and be more than happy to greet any of you who wish to come in, and we of course will take a picture, and I’ll be able to thank you personally. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

PRN: 2011/810