Page of old scrapbook featuring family of four

A Legacy of Service

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As a young girl, Sylvia Blake set sail with her parents and brothers in 1930 to Guatemala when her father, Sheldon Whitehouse, was assigned there as the U.S. Envoy. Sheldon Whitehouse served as a Foreign Service Officer for nearly 30 years around the world, including London, Caracas, Paris, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Guatemala, and Colombia. He instilled a tradition of public service in his family for generations to come.

Sylvia, herself a child of the foreign service, married Foreign Service Officer Robert Blake. As a foreign service spouse, Sylvia served alongside her husband and supported his and the entire embassy’s efforts to promote U.S. national interests abroad. They lived in many countries, including Leopoldville (Kinshasa), Congo during a very tumultuous time. Robert later served as U.S. Ambassador to Mali (1971-1973).

Sylvia’s brother Charles Whitehouse joined the foreign service and served as U.S. Ambassador to Laos (1973-1975) and to Thailand (1975-1978). Prior to these assignments, he served as the deputy to Ellsworth Bunker, the American ambassador in Saigon.

Sylvia’s son Robert Jr. joined the foreign service and would go on to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Maldives and Sri Lanka (2006-2009), Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs (2009-2013), and U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia (2013-2016).

And Sylvia’s nephew Sheldon Whitehouse, son of Charles, is currently serving as a U.S. Senator for Rhode Island.

Sylvia’s mother kept detailed scrapbooks of their service abroad, a practice that Sylvia continued. Today, three generations of the Whitehouse/Blake family’s service to our nation are preserved in her collection of scrapbooks and photo albums. Earlier this year, Diplomacy Center curatorial staff had the opportunity to visit with Sylvia in her Washington, D.C. home and to digitally capture pages from these historic scrapbooks and albums.

The photographs and mementos vividly depict the personal and familial side of foreign service life, the vital function that the foreign service family plays, and the Whitehouse/Blake family’s dedication to representing the United States abroad. This collection of images captures a legacy of service and greatly supports the Diplomacy Center’s exhibition development and research efforts.

Sylvia has also graciously supported the Diplomacy Center Foundation’s capital campaign by making a $100,000 donation to the Founding Ambassador’s fund.