Diplomatic Encounters

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Stuart Holliday, president and CEO of the Meridian International Center. Photo by Didi Cutler.

A doorway to America and a window on the world, Meridian International Center welcomes Washington’s many diplomats to life in Washington while, at the same time, offering Washingtonians a unique exposure to the world outside.

Standing regally just off 16th Street NW, Meridian encompasses two historic mansions designed by well-known architect John Russell Pope, architect of the Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives Building and the Residence of the Brazilian Ambassador. Built by two American ambassadors as their retirement homes, Meridian’s two magnificent buildings — Meridian House and the White-Meyer House, Katharine Graham’s childhood home — serve as a diplomatic center for the 177 embassies located in our capital.

Stuart Holliday has been at Meridian’s helm, often referred to as the best job in Washington, for the past 11 years. Holliday says that, like all jobs, it has its challenges, but he finds it “truly a gift to walk into the doors of these beautiful buildings, to look out at the gardens and to work with a staff full of passion for what they do and optimism for what they can do for the future.”

Coming from a diplomatic background himself (his father was a diplomat), Holliday was a perfect candidate to take over the reins from his predecessor, Walt Cutler. Before assuming his role as Meridian’s president and CEO, Holliday served at the State Department, as an ambassador at the United Nations and in the White House — all jobs which he says were about how to engage with people from other countries.

Having joined Meridian at the age of 40, he says: “I am a bit older now, but I never thought I would be here this long. Both my predecessors stayed for a very long time. I now understand why. It is a great job with a critical mission, increasing daily in importance as the world gets smaller and smaller.”

To help Meridian along in fulfilling its many goals is, Holliday says, a joint effort. Although she has a full-time job in Georgetown, his wife Gwen still finds time to play a significant role in engaging the diplomats and their spouses.

Since its founding in 1961, Meridian’s mission has been the promotion of international understanding through the exchange of people, ideas and cultures. Our embassies around the world select potential future leaders — young and upcoming politicians, journalists, authors, artists, academics, community organizers and other professionals — to visit America for specially designed international leadership programs. Here they confer, exchange ideas and build partnerships with their U.S. counterparts. Working closely with the State Department, Meridian arranges these programs for about 3,400 visitors each year.

The visitors range widely, from African women entrepreneurs and Saudi Arabian school administrators to members of a British-American parliamentary group and Chinese managers of a renewable-energy project. Holliday is particularly proud of the current Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, hosting 250 entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean. Through these intense exchanges of ideas and experiences, Meridian helps to provide future global leaders with insights and a broad sense of possibilities.

Among the international participants in Meridian’s programs have been more than 175 individuals who rose to become heads of state, including Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, Hamid Karzai, Tony Blair, Nicolas Sarkozy, Anwar Sadat and F. W. de Klerk.

Meridian is also the home of THIS for Diplomats, an organization dedicated to offering diplomats and their families a variety of programs to help them engage in Washington life, including home hospitality, cultural events and language conversation groups.

To help raise funds to enable Meridian to carry out its many diverse activities, Meridian holds an annual ball attended by more than 800 guests. Considered by many to be D.C.’s premier diplomatic gala, the ball will mark its 49th year on Friday, Oct. 20, with music and dancing in Meridian House and its surrounding gardens. A special part of the evening are the pre-ball dinners hosted by approximately 30 embassies. Guests may also dine at the White-Meyer House.

Secretary Ann Korologos and Ambassador Tom Korologos are this year’s chairs, along with honorary co-chairs Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Mark Warner. Glenn and Suzanne Youngkin and Andrew and Heather Florance are the co-chairs for the White-Meyer dinner preceding the ball.

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