Pamela Beryl Harriman (20 March 1920 – 5 February 1997), also known as Pamela Churchill Harriman, was an English-born American political activist for the Democratic Party, diplomat, and socialite.
She was a descendant of the Earls of Leicester and Ilchester and the Dukes of Atholl. She was a first cousin of Lavinia Fitzalan-Howard, Duchess of Norfolk. She was also a third cousin, once removed, of Angus Ogilvy, husband of Queen Elizabeth's cousin, Alexandra of Kent. She was also a fourth cousin, once removed, of Sarah, Duchess of York.
She married three important and powerful men, her first husband being Randolph Churchill, the son of prime minister Winston Churchill. Her only child, Winston Churchill, was named after his famous grandfather.
Pamela Digby was born in Farnborough, Hampshire, England, the daughter of Edward Digby, 11th Baron Digby, and his wife, Constance Pamela Alice, the daughter of Henry Campbell Bruce, 2nd Baron Aberdare. She was educated by governesses in the ancestral home at Minterne Magna in Dorset, along with her three younger siblings. Her great-great aunt was the nineteenth-century adventurer and courtesan Jane Digby (1807–1881), notorious for her exotic travels and scandalous personal life. Pamela was to follow in her ancestor's footsteps, and has been called "the 20th-century's most influential courtesan".
Raised amid acres of Dorset farmland and woods, from an early age Pamela was a very good horsewoman. She competed at shows at the International Olympia, Royal Bath and West Show, and local shows at Dorchester and Melplash. She show-jumped a tiny pony called Stardust that did a clear round at Olympia when every fence was above the animal's withers.
At the age of seventeen, she was sent to a Munich boarding school for six months. While there she was introduced to Adolf Hitler by her friend Unity Mitford, one of the six Mitford sister.. She subsequently went to Paris, taking some classes at the Sorbonne. By 1937, she had returned to Britain.
In 1939, while working at the Foreign Office in London doing French-to-English translations, Pamela met Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston Churchill, and a womaniser and alcoholic, desperate for a wife, having already proposed to eight women in the space of two weeks. Randolph proposed to her on the very evening they met, and they were married on 4 October 1939.
Two days after Randolph Churchill took his seat in the House of Commons, their son Winston was born. Shortly after giving birth, Pamela and the newborn were photographed by Cecil Beaton for Life magazine, its first cover of a mother with baby.
In February 1941, Randolph was sent to Cairo for military service, where he accrued large gambling debts.
During her marriage to Randolph Churchill, she had romantic involvements with several men of prominence and wealth such as: W. Averell Harriman, who much later became her third husband; Edward R. Murrow; and John Hay "Jock" Whitney.
Eventually, Pamela filed for divorce in December 1945 on the grounds that he had deserted her for three years.
After her divorce from Randolph Churchill, Pamela moved to Paris and in 1948 began her five-year-long affair with Gianni Agnelli. She described this as the happiest period of her life. She converted to Catholicism, and obtained an annulment of her marriage with Randolph Churchill from the Catholic Church, in the hope to marry Gianni Agnelli.
Agnelli, however, did not have the same intention. In 1952, Pamela found him with a young woman, Anne-Marie d'Estainville. And one year later, in November of 1953, Gianni Agnelli married Italian Prrincess Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto. Pamela Churchill ended the affair.
Her next significant relationship was with Baron Ellie de Rothschild, who was married. He supported her financially, and she was schooled in art history and wine-making during this clandestine and short relationship. During this time she also entertained an affair with the writer Maurice Druon and with the shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos.
Other notable men Pamela Churchill was involved with after her divorce from Churchill included Prince Aly Khan, William S. Paley, Alfonso de Portago,etc.
In 1959, Pamela Churchill met Broadway producer Leland Hayward, who was still married to Slim Hawks. She moved to New York City.
The day Hayward's divorce was final, she became the fifth Mrs. Hayward with the ceremony taking place in Carson City, Nevada, on 4 May 1960. Hayward was rich with income from his productions, notably the very successful The Sound of Music, allowing for a lavish and luxurious lifestyle mostly between their residence in New York City and the Westchester County estate "Haywire." Pamela Hayward stayed with her husband until his death on 18 March 1971.
The day after Hayward's funeral, Pamela arranged to resume her acquaintance with her former lover, Harriman, then 79 years old and recently widowed.
They were married on 27 September 1971. As Pamela Churchill Harriman she became a United States citizen in the same year.
With this marriage, her social focus was moved to Washington, D.C., where he owned a townhouse in Georgetown from which they entertained many notable people. Harriman, a railroad heir, was wealthy and also bought an estate in Virginia and a private jet. With Harriman's involvement and links in the Democratic Party, her political career began.
In 1980, the National Women's Democratic Club named her "Woman of the Year".
In 1986, when W. Averell Harriman died, Pamela stayed at his side, remaining Pamela Harriman and inherited 115 million dollars.
In 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton of United States appointed her as Ambassador to France.
Pamela Churchill Harriman died on 5 February 1997 at the American Hospital, Neuilly-sur-Seine, after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage while swimming at the Paris Ritz one day earlier.
The morning after her death, President Jacques Chirac of France placed the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur on her flag-draped coffin. She was the first female foreign diplomat to receive this honour.
President Bill Clinton, in further recognition of her contributions and significance, dispatched Air Force One to return her body to the US and spoke at her funeral at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., mentioning her public service in glowing terms.
Pamela Churchill Harriman was buried 14 February 1997 at Arden, the former Harriman estate in New York.