The rich history of the Charlottesville Committee on Foreign Relations (CCFR) traces its origin to March 12, 1951, when a small group of prominent Charlottesville citizens met at the Farmington Country Club. Present at this meeting were Francis P. Miller, Dr. John Gange-the recently appointed Director of the University of Virginia Woodrow Wilson School of Foreign Affairs-Austin Kilham, Hardy Dillard, Robert Ashcom, Randolph Bean, and Chester Babcock, of the Daily Progress. Also present was Mr. Joe Barber, representing the Council on Foreign Relations, who assisted those assembled with the establishment of the CCFR-the 25th Committee in the United States to be affiliated with the Council. The first meeting of the Committee followed shortly thereafter, occurring on March 23, with Allen Dulles, then President of the Council of Foreign Relations, serving as the initial CCFR speaker.
Founded for the purpose of bringing together individuals interested in an informed discussion of contemporary issues in international affairs, a mission which remains the same today, CCFR originally limited its membership to 50 persons, and meetings were conducted, primarily, at the Farmington Country Club and Keswick. Over the years, however, membership quotas gradually increased, and, by 1979, the CCFR had moved from its meeting site at Farmington to the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) School, located on the grounds of the University of Virginia. The JAG School would then serve as the Committee’s principal home, and its personnel would provide all of the administrative support for the monthly Committee meetings until shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, when enhanced security requirements made it untenable to continue the CCFR-JAG School relationship. In the time that followed, Committee sessions were conducted, for several years, at the Greencroft Country Club, until a decision was made to move to the current Glenmore Country Club site in 2004.
The Council on Foreign Relations dissolved its relationship with its branch committees in 1995, and the CCFR then became associated with The American Committees on Foreign Relations (ACFR), an internal program of the Council. This connection was to exist until 2007, when the CCFR Board, after much deliberation, made a significant organizational decision. From its earliest days, CCFR has had the good fortune to have, amongst its membership, a substantial number of former diplomats, military officers, federal government attorneys, and international business executives, as well as academics from the University of Virginia faculty. This fact, coupled with Charlottesville’s close proximity to Washington, D.C., coalesced, over time, in a belief by the Committee’s Board that CCFR possessed the ability to access, on its own, some of the most highly qualified and sought-after international affairs experts in both the U.S. and abroad. It was this perceived ability, as well as the rising costs associated with the Committee’s dependence on the ACFR to provide speakers for CCFR meetings, that served as the driving force behind the Board’s decision to terminate its affiliation with the ACFR. The wisdom of this move has since been proven, as witnessed by the truly exceptional individuals, listed on the CCFR website, who have shared their wisdom with the CCFR membership in the ensuing years. Spearheaded by a continuous line of dedicated Program Committee Chairmen, CCFR members have, collectively, risen to the challenge of securing speakers who are acknowledged experts in the varied facets of international affairs.
A rewarding initiative in the evolution of the CCFR occurred in 2008, when a decision was made to partner with the Central Virginia Chapter of the Fulbright Association to co-sponsor an event at which a mutually agreed topic is addressed, in November of each year. This program draws Fulbright alums in the Charlottesville area, as well as current Fulbright scholars, and serves as an opportunity for CCFR and Fulbright members to meet and discuss matters of mutual interest. A particularly noteworthy development, as well, has been the now almost decade-long CCFR luncheon program, bringing together a limited number of CCFR members, on a monthly basis, to discuss, in detail, an international subject of contemporary concern.
Constantly growing and responding to the events of the day since its relatively humble origin in 1951, CCFR will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2021. Now governed by established Bylaws and Policy and Procedure Guidelines, and overseen by a succession of dedicated officers and Board members, the Committee’s membership now totals almost 200 households (350 individuals), and monthly dinners average 175 attendees. Most recently, with the goal of moving its administrative operations, primarily, to a digital format, the CCFR Board has hired the Committee’s first, part-time, CCFR Administrator, a decision that reflects the Board’s commitment to adapt, as it always has, to the demands of a changing world and the international challenges that confront it. Now, as it was 70 years ago, CCFR serves as the singular Charlottesville forum in which to engage in an insightful discussion, on a non-attribution basis, of the most relevant foreign affairs topics of our time.