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History of Charlottesville Committee on Foreign Relations

The story begins on December 6, 1949 with a letter from Francis P. Miller of Charlottesville to his friend Walter Mallory, Executive Director of the Council on Foreign Relations, in which Miller asks Mallory to receive Dr. John Gange, who had recently been appointed Director of the Woodrow Wilson School of Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia and was planning to be in New York during the Christmas holidays. “It occurred to me,” Miller wrote. ”That Dr. Gange might want to talk to you about the possibility of eventually organizing a Committee in Charlottesville. Since he has arrived so recently, he probably would not feel like making a move immediately, but no harm would come from a preliminary exploration of the possibilities.”

The letter seems to have arrived in New York overnight because Mallory responded on December 7, suggesting that Dr. Gange was welcome but ought to talk to Joe Barber, who had the Committees “in hand.”

Thirteen months later, Barber wrote to Gange, asking whether “it made sense to canvass the possibility of establishing an affiliated Committee on Foreign Relations in Charlottesville” – the matter they had discussed on that earlier visit. Barber expressed some concern that a Charlottesville committee would be predominantly academic but offered to have Mallory come by to inspect the ground. Gange replied that he would welcome such a visit but that he himself had some doubts and hesitations about the project. The community, he said, had an abundance of organizations, which competed for the attention of “a fairly small group of serious and cosmopolitan citizens.” This seems to have encouraged Barber, so that in his next letter, he suggested that Gange meet with Mallory in Washington. That was done and on February 20, we find Barber urging Gange to go ahead, and if possible, to hold a couple of meetings in the spring. Mallory seconded the suggestion with a letter to Gange the following day, suggesting also that some people from Richmond might be included in the Charlottesville Committee.

An organizational meeting was then scheduled for March 12, 1951, at the Farmington Country Club. Present, besides Gange and Barber himself, were Austin Kilham, Francis P. Miller, Hardy Dillard, Robert Ashcom, Randolph Bean, and Chester Babcock of the Daily Progress. It was decided that membership would be by invitation of the Executive Committee and would be limited to 50 men and that meetings would be held on the third Monday of each month from September to May with business to be transacted at the April meeting. Business meetings were to be private and informal and no guests would ordinarily be admitted. The officers would be a Chairman, a Secretary-Treasurer, and a Rapporteur. The Executive Committee would consist of these officers and two additional elected members. Due would be $10 per year. The duties of the Secretary-Treasurer would include securing speakers in addition to those furnished by the Council. A temporary Executive Committee was appointed, consisting of Hardy Dillard, Chairman, Austin Kilham, Secretary, Randolph Bean, and John Ganje. Barber’s thank you letters are addressed to Messrs. Kilham, Ashcom and Bean. On March 20, Kilham writes to report that they have made up a list of seventy-five persons from which they hope to get at least forty members. Charlottesville would be the twenty-fifth local Committee to be affiliated with the Council on Foreign Relations.

By March 23, Mallory is asking Allen Dulles, as President of the Council, to attend the first meeting of the Committee on May 3 and Dulles accepts. In April, Kilham invites General Sir William Morgan, as speaker. On April 18, he reports to Barber that the new Committee has 48 members. A letter of April 23 from Barber to Kilham sets out the details of the Committee’s obligations to the Council. The standard contribution of a Committee towards the honorarium and expenses of a speaker furnished by the Council would be $75. Each committee’s annual contributions should come to around $375 for five meetings. It is explicitly stated that no part of the Committee’s dues will go to the Council, which appears to have other means of support.

A letter from Gange to Barber on May 8, 1951, a few days after the first business meeting of the Committee reports that the meeting went well, that Austin Kilham and James H. Michael, Jr. [later a Federal District Court Judge] were elected President and Secretary respectively and that the full year’s program would begin in September. In June of 1951, Michael circulates a questionnaire to members, asking about their preferences and interests. Michael then assumes the leading role in the Committee and holds it into 1953.

The 1951-52 program looks very much like our programs nowadays. There is even one occasion when the venue is shifted from Farmington to Keswick and another in which a speaker is shared with the Woodrow Wilson School. In January 1953, the membership limit is raised to 60, in order to assure an attendance of about 40 at the monthly meetings.

A memorandum circulated by the Council in 1963 gives us a little more information about the early days of the Charlottesville Committee. Membership in that year was 46, slightly down from 51, ten years before. There were only four speakers listed for that year:

        Guillermo Belt, former Cuban Ambassador to the United States
        Prescott Carter of North Garden
        Count Gerard de la Villebrunne, Counselor at the French Embassy
        Robert E. Matteson, Senior Adviser, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency

There are no available records from 1963 to 1976 when Robert Bushner, as Director of Committees at the Council on Foreign Relations, reminds all the Committees of the Council’s rules about guests – that members must accompany their guests, that speakers be informed that their remarks are not for attribution, that guests must be U.S. citizens unless specially cleared, and must be persons who would be eligible for membership. Non-eligible spouses of members were not to be brought as guests.

In 1977, Bart Shaw-Kennedy took over from Beau Pruyear as Secretary. There was a felt need for new members and it was suggested that the former practice of inviting graduate students to meetings be renewed.

By 1979, when Major James A. Baker, Don Nuechterlein and Peter Ward attended the annual conference of the Council in New York, the preferred venue for meetings of the Committee had been moved from Farmington to the JAG School. For the next several years, an officer designated by the JAG School commandant was assigned as secretary of the Committee, while at one time the Executive Committee was chaired by Bob Porter, a four-star general on active service and included two retired admirals.

In the presidential election of 1980, right-wing attacks on the Council figured so prominently that George H.W. Bush found it expedient to resign his membership. The Council and the Trilateral Commission were alleged to be part of a conspiracy to destroy the American way of life. The Council organized a vigorous rebuttal in syndicated columns, newspapers and magazines.

Meanwhile, Bushner’s oversight of the Council’s Committees became increasingly intrusive. After an inspection visit in the winter of 1982, he wrote to Major David Dowell, the Committee’s Secretary, urging that more members be recruited from the “town,” especially lawyers. A few months later, he was urging that the Committee include Council members living in or near Charlottesville and that term memberships be introduced to attract younger members. A few weeks after that, in a letter addressed to all the Committees, he rebuked them for insufficient entertainment of visiting speakers. In June 1985, after talking with a speaker who had apparently not enjoyed his evening in Charlottesville, Bushner sent a critical letter to Emmet Ford, which characterized the Charlottesville Committee as consisting of old men too set in their ways to listen to opinions not identical with their own. This provoked a blistering reply from Ford that challenged Bushner’s obsession with the age of members:

…. Despite our sincere desire to increase our younger membership, we see no reason to be apologetic about the older and unusually distinguished members who are, indeed, in the majority in our Committee. Quite to the contrary, many of these are the principal opinion leaders in the area of central Virginia – retired and active bankers, oil company executives, Foreign Service officers, generals, admirals, gentlemen farmers, and former executives in multinational companies.

He went on to point out that the speakers the Charlottesville Committee found on its own were more diverse and also more distinguished than those provided by the Council.

Jennifer Whitaker replaced Bushner as Director of the Council’s Committees in 1987. Her relationship with individual Committees was much less emotional than her predecessor’s. In the Council’s Directory of Committee officers for 1988, Lt. Colonel Warren Hall appears as Secretary of the Charlottesville Committee and Mac Thompson continues as Chair. By 1991, another JAG officer is Secretary and Fred Sacksteder has taken over as Chair. The Committee celebrated its fortieth anniversary that year with a black-tie dinner attended by 142 members and guests. The membership stood at 120, which was above the average of the other local Committees. The dues had risen to $75, of which $49 went to the Council, but covered individual subscriptions to Foreign Affairs.

In the run-up to the presidential election of 1992, the Daily Progress gave some space to charges that the aim of the Council of Foreign Relations was “to bring about changes in the American culture so that this country can be brought into a one-world socialist empire.” This time around, no rebuttal seemed necessary.

In 1994 the speaker list included Lawrence Eagleburger and McGeorge Bundy; Madeleine Allbright was narrowly missed. The dues were raised to $100. The JAG School had closed its commissary so that the Committee’s dinners had to be catered, but they were still held in the upstairs dining room, followed by the talk and discussion in the ground floor auditorium.

At the Annual Conference of the Council in 1994, the name of our organization was changed to “The Council on Foreign Relations-Charlottesville Committee.” No new letterheads were printed. There was no indication of the imminent rupture.

As a delegate to the Conference, Major Mark Martins was informed of the action before other members of the Charlottesville Committee and Colonel Graves, as commandant of the JAG School, terminated the Committee’s long-standing relationship with his organization, commenting that “if the committees, like the one in Charlottesville, survive at all, they will do so only with a lot of work – most of the big name speakers all came to Charlottesville because of the Council’s support.” Thus, at one stroke, the Committee lost both its national and its local sponsorship.

A new umbrella organization, called the American Committees on Foreign Relations (ACFR), was founded the same year in Washington D.C. ACFR provided CCFR with speakers and foreign affairs information support which required larger dues for services than the Council.

That the Charlottesville Committee survived at all is a tribute to John Woodworth, who for the next eight years assumed all the responsibilities that the JAG School had abandoned. During this time the JAG School encountered numerous needs for plant expansion and security improvement. Construction frequently closed the dining facilities to CCFR meetings. A variety of alternate venues were explored until 2002 when the Greencroft Country Club became our regular meeting place.

Then in 2004 and 2005, under the joint chairmanship of Charlie Stamm and Bill Gray, a new administrative structure was developed, the venue for dinner meetings was shifted from Greencroft to Glenmore Country Club and prominent speakers, many recruited by individual members, continued to appear at regular intervals for the enlightenment of a membership as large as ever before. The membership list for May 1995 showed 106 membership units (either couples or individuals). A similar list for December 2006 shows 126 membership units.

In 2006, the Committee marked its fifty-fifth anniversary, with Charlie Stamm as chair and an active and dedicated Board of Directors. It is very much a going concern.

Theodore Caplow, February 2007

                                                                                    * * *

At the close of business June 2007 the Board met to consider an increase in dues/fees by ACFR. CCFR had diminished use of ACFR speaker and program services in recent times. The CCFR Board decided that operations independent of ACFR and lower costs would be the best alternative for Charlottesville. Thus, once again, ties were severed with national affiliations and CCFR goes forward as a local Committee. This action is similar to that taken previously in Phoenix, Boston, and other cities.

Looking back over those years, CCFR has changed some, but it did not turn out to be predominantly academic. It long ago abandoned a “too old”, “all male” membership stereotype and has had little trouble attracting a growing number of serious and cosmopolitan citizens. The make-up of the Committee is regularly renewed with a generous mix of individuals from business, foreign service, military, academic and service institutions, local government and civic organizations,.

Most important CCFR has retained its fundamental purpose of promoting discussion of foreign policy and international affairs. Prominent speakers continue to enjoy “off the record” privilege to encourage the most wide open question and answer exchanges.

The Charlottesville Committee on Foreign Relations encourages active participation by members and guests, and welcomes new members