Entrepreneur and philanthropist Solomont writes of her tour of duty as the wife of the U.S. ambassador to Spain and Andorra—an unpaid position, she pointedly notes, but a full-time one.
When Barack Obama appointed Alan Solomont to represent the U.S. before the governments of Spain and Andorra in 2009, the author stepped into a “diminutive role of ‘ambassador’s spouse.’ ” At the ambassadorial equivalent of boot camp, each student was given a thick binder full of information about all the ambassadors in training, but it included nothing about their spouses. What was immediately clear was that those spouses were not allowed to work while in service, leaving unwelcome gaps in their employment history and Social Security contributions, all because of the potential for conflict of interest. “Acquiescence is not in my DNA,” writes the author. “If there wasn’t a meaningful role for me to fill—something that would allow me to put my own skills and intelligence to work—then I would create one.” The role she created included helping Spanish olive growers develop branding strategies, mentoring women in business, and, in the end, becoming “somewhat of a mini maven when it comes to Spain, learning everything I could about the country.” Meanwhile, she recounts, her husband helped forge a stronger relationship between the U.S. and the Spanish government, especially by developing a friendship with King Juan Carlos, whom the ambassador gave credit for the “leadership and vision” that allowed the nation to emerge from under the shadow of the long Franco dictatorship. Although her protestations against State Department policies regarding spouses come too frequently and repetitively, it is clear that Solomont made the most of the opportunities presented by “the mixed blessing of a relatively blank slate.”
Useful reading for those in a similar position, whether in the public or private sector, and a strong case for better defining the roles of diplomatic spouses, to say nothing of paying them for their work.