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Molly Raiser succeeds in sensitive government post
U.S. Protocol Chief visits campus, talks about challenging job

By CHRISTINE VIDAL

She's been to Brussels, Prague, Moscow, Paris, Rome, Naples, Minsk, Kiev, Cambridge, Normandy, Berlin and Bonn-but Buffalo is still home.

And Molly Raiser, M.A. '79, Chief of Protocol for President Clinton, came home Commencement Weekend, when UB presented its most prestigious award, the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, to her mother, Eleanor Millonzi, a leading patron of the arts who has given unstintingly on behalf of local arts institutions and organizations.

Raiser has served as Clinton's Chief of Protocol for almost two years, and "it's clearly the best job in Washington, and I think the best job in the world," said Raiser, who received her master's degree in American studies.

In a nutshell, she said, she is responsible for planning visits with foreign heads of state both here and abroad. That's a simple way to describe what she does.

Prior to official trips abroad, Raiser makes an advance trip-along with other members of the protocol staff, members of the White House press, Secret Service, the Secretary of State and a member of his security staff-to lay the groundwork for these meetings, and make sure that things go smoothly.

"We go and meet with our counterparts in a foreign country. Generally we have some ideas of what we want to accomplish," she said.

She's also the U.S. liaison for about 165 foreign ambassadors, "the brightest and best of their foreign services," who are accredited in Washington. "I'm the first person they deal with when they come to the U.S.," she said.

So what kind of qualifications are needed to be Chief of Protocol?

"You have to be able to cope, you have to be organized, and you have to like people," Raiser said. Some background in American history and other cultures is helpful, as is tremendous fortitude. "It takes a lot of energy. The average length of time served is 1.3 years, and I will stay for a few more months at least."

It's a fun job for someone with a sense of adventure, which Raiser clearly has. But there occasionally can be down sides to the job, she admits.

"When the president of Bosnia first came to ask for aid, I knew he wasn't going to get help and I couldn't tell him," she said. As they waited for his meeting to begin, small talk fizzled until they both sat in awkward silence. "That was one of the worst jobs of my life," she said.

But overall the job is "absolutely great, and the thought that I almost didn't take this job appalls me," she said.

Raiser was pursuing a Ph.D. in urban ethnicity at American University when "I got a call about four months into this administration" asking if she'd be interested in the post. "I didn't even know what the Chief of Protocol did," she said.

One look at the job description and she knew it was too good a job to pass up.

Sorting out cultural differences is not as difficult as one might expect, she says. "We are all becoming more and more one world. There is more of an understanding of cultural things. I have no problems when I go to an Asian country. There are cultural differences but they're not the problems they once were. And I've had no problems because I'm a woman.

"In Kiev, one has to watch drinking the water, but dealing with people is no problem," she said with a smile.

She must have marvelous anecdotes to tell about the people she has met and the places she's been, but Raiser is as discreet as any diplomat.

"The best anecdotes, I can't tell. They're funny, personal or just private," she said.

The best parts of the job, she added, are the private conversations with world leaders, citing talks with King Hussein, the juxtaposition of back-to-back visits from Boris Yeltsin and Nelson Mandela, the approachability of John Major.

"The higher you go, the more normal and wonderful they get," she said. "I suppose it's because they've made it."

Surely she has some favorites among all the world leaders she's met as Chief of Protocol.

"Whomever I'm with at the time is my favorite."

CHRISTINE VIDAL is editor of the Reporter, a weekly newspaper published by the Division of University Services.

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