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vast wealth, Swanee Hunt '72 could be painting her nails in the south
of France. Instead, she is organizing displaced women in the Balkans and
directing Harvard's new Women and Public Policy Program -- spearheading
a sweeping social agenda that educates and supports women.
Swanee Hunt '72 does not like protocol. She especially dislikes long,
wide banquet tables that "ensure a certain percentage of the guests are
bored." So while serving as U.S Ambassador in Vienna, she broke established
rules and cut tables down to seat four, then put five or six at each.
touching, people began talking.
has always gotten people talking. In fact, she's made it a lifetime commitment,
devoting time, talent and fortune to causes ranging from the mentally
ill to peace efforts in Bosnia. Thrusting her heart and hands into the
work, Hunt is known internationally as a woman who cuts new doors in old
walls, finds windows in steel hearts.
unconventional methods quickly endeared her to many at Harvard when she
began leading the year-old Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP). At
her first address in her new position, she moved from stories of her life
to song. Despite puzzled looks from the audience, Hunt sang her heart
king was in the counting house / Counting out his money, / The queen was
in the parlor, / Eating bread and honey."
Then an observation.
really like to make some changes so the poem might read, The king was
in the nursery / Reading to his daughter. / The maid was at the opera
/ Soaking up some culture. / The queen had left the counting house, /
The checks had all been signed. / And God is in her heaven / smiling down
daughter of oil billionaire H.L. Hunt, Swanee Hunt is a bit of a contradiction.
Despite her family background, she spends much of her time with the poor
and helpless, giving away at least half her yearly income and openly sharing
her home and life with paupers, students and rulers (sheoften hosts up
to 100 people a week in the Cambridge home she shares with her conductor
husband, Charles Ansbacher, and two of their three children). Raised in
a strict Southern Baptist home by a compassionate mother and a politically
arch conservative father, she holds graduate degrees in psychology, counseling
and theology and was the third-largest contributor to President Clinton's
often put adjectives like 'oil heiress' before Swanee's name," said Valerie
Gillen, assistant director of WAPPP. "And that just doesn't convey who
Swanee is." Truth is, Hunt is a wildcatter, like her father before her.
At least that's what those close to her say. She's a gentle powerhouse
who knows when to prod and how to persuade, and won't hesitate to reinvent
the box when necessary.
16 years in Denver, the then-young mother earned a doctorate, founded
the Women's Foundation of Colorado, co-directed a halfway house for the
mentally ill and involved herself in a myriad of other social issues and
projects through Hunt Alternatives, her philanthropic organization that
provides funding to grassroots social efforts, all while restoring an
carving out a place where I could sit in the middle of the construction
with the hammering going on, two card tables to spread my doctoral research
work out on and being nine months pregnant," she said. "And I was working
with psychiatric patients 40 hours a week. "So I've always juggle a lot,
I'm just doing it at a somewhat different level now."
the woman who believes that with privilege comes responsibility, launched
the Vienna Women's Initiative to encourage the new democracies of Eastern
Europe and involved herself with neighboring Bosnia, hosting negotiations
between two of the three warring factions. She then turned to the displaced
women, meeting with and helping victims of ethnic cleansing. Following
the war, she organized a relief campaign and spoke at a major gathering
of 500 women leaders from across all ethnic lines. The Sarajevo office
of Hunt Alternatives continues to provide support for women in the war-torn
communities. She is currently gathering these women's stories into a book
which will be published in the next year or so.
schedule does have lulls built in. That's when she can be found curled
up in bed with one of her children, books in hand.
way of understanding action in the world is to think of it as a tree,"
she said. "What is above ground has to be matched with the same kind of
depth underground. If you become top heavy, or outward heavy, you'll blow
over. So I actually spend a lot of time in relationships and reflections
to help those roots grow."
deeply and broadly those roots have grown. Philanthropist. Diplomat. Educator.
Social reformer. Columnist. Composer (she wrote The Witness Cantata which
has been performed in Washington, D.C., and abroad). Photographer (she's
had several one-woman shows). Poet. Wife. And mother.
sailing around Kodiak Island in Alaska as one of the crew members, trekked
in Nepal to 15,000 feet and run the Venice marathon," she said. "I think
that's descriptive of my mindset, how I approach life‹pushing past the
limits, setting a goal that seems interesting and worthwhile then doing
whatever it takes. That's generally how I operate.
usually say, 'Is this possible?' "
with Swanee Hunt, it seems all things are.