Robin Chandler Duke

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Grace Chandler Esther (Tippett)

Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Death: February 06, 2016 (92)
Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Richard Edgar Tippett and Esther Tippett
Wife of Angier Biddle Duke
Ex-wife of Jeffrey Lynn
Mother of Private; Private and Private
Sister of Margaret Chandler Ridley

Occupation: US Ambassador to Norway, Champion of Women’s Rights
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Robin Chandler Duke

Robin Chandler Duke, a rags-to-riches grande dame who married an ambassador and became one of America’s best known advocates for women by championing reproductive rights and international family planning, died in Charleston, S.C., on Saturday. She was 92.

Her daughter, Letitia Lynn, confirmed the death, at Bishop Gadsden, a retirement community. Ms. Duke for many years had homes in New York and the Hamptons, on Long Island.

Ms. Duke’s life was full of storybook improbabilities: a lawyer’s daughter left destitute, a teenage model who lied about her age, a reporter, the wife of a fading actor, a single mother of two who succeeded as a television newscaster, a stockbroker and a public relations executive when women in those roles were rare.

At age 39, she became the fourth wife of Angier Biddle Duke, the scion of two American dynasties. He was President John F. Kennedy’s chief of protocol, had already served as ambassador to El Salvador and would later become President Lyndon B. Johnson’s chief of protocol and the ambassador to Denmark, Spain and Morocco.


Robin Chandler Duke at a gala in 2006 with Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Credit Louis Lanzano/Associated Press With the wealth, prestige and connections of her second husband, Ms. Duke led the glamorous life of an ambassador’s wife for two decades, accompanying him to White House dinners and on assignments in Copenhagen, Madrid, and Rabat, Morocco, entertaining world leaders and royalty abroad and the crème of society at the Duke homes in Manhattan and Southampton, N.Y.

But starting in the 1970s when she was in her 50s, Ms. Duke also independently embraced social and political causes, and for much of the remainder of her life she promoted and led organizations supporting abortion rights and legal equality for women, the stabilization of rising global populations and health and education programs in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.

She was the national co-chairwoman of the Population Crisis Committee/Draper Fund, which financed International Planned Parenthood; the president and, later, the chairwoman of the National Abortion Rights Action League; the president of its successor, Naral Pro-Choice America; a founder of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities; and the chairwoman of Population Action International.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter asked her to lead America’s delegation to the 21st United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization conference in Belgrade, Serbia, a five-week gathering of 2,000 delegates from 154 countries focusing on the clashing public policies of developed nations, third-world countries, the Soviet bloc and Western democracies. She was accorded ambassadorial rank.

“She wasn’t Mrs. Angier Biddle Duke,” her husband said. “She was the Honorable Robin Chandler Duke.”

Ms. Duke was a co-founder of the United States-Japan Foundation and was a director of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the World Childhood Foundation and the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation. She was also a trustee of the Institute of International Education and an overseer of the International Rescue Committee.


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In 2000, she became a full-fledged ambassador herself. President Bill Clinton named her his envoy to Norway, and she served in Oslo in the final year of his administration.

She was born Grace Esther Tippett in Baltimore on Oct. 13, 1923, one of two daughters of Richard Edgar and Esther Chandler Tippett. Her parents called her Robin, and she used the nickname all her life. Her father left his law firm when she was 15, and the family fortunes went into a tailspin. Robin had to drop out of a private school for girls. Her parents split up.

Her mother moved with the children to New York, rented a room and found work as a tearoom cashier. Robin’s older sister, Peggy, became a photographer’s model, and at 16, Robin lied about her age and got a job modeling dresses for the clientele at Lord & Taylor. She was found out and fired, but managed to get other modeling jobs, including one at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, to help sustain the family.

She also made contacts with editors at The New York Journal-American and in 1944 got a job as a writer for the women’s page. She used the byline Robin Chandler and covered society news, fashion and the occasional murder.

In 1946, she quit the newspaper, married the actor Jeffrey Lynn and moved to Hollywood. His film career had flourished in the late 1930s and early ’40s (he played alongside James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in Raoul Walsh’s “The Roaring Twenties”), but it faltered after he served in World War II. The Lynns had two children, Jeffrey and Letitia. Robin had an abortion; she spoke of it openly later in life as a trauma that led to her involvement with women’s reproductive rights.

As Mr. Lynn’s film career dwindled, it largely fell to Robin to support the family. With her background in journalism, she got a job at WCAU-TV, the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia, reading the evening news. The Lynn marriage came apart in the early 1950s, although the couple did not divorce until 1958.

Robin’s struggle as a single mother echoed her mother’s experience. In 1952, she joined NBC’s new “Today” show, with Dave Garroway, as an anchor-reporter. She covered the national political conventions and Jacqueline Bouvier’s 1953 marriage to Senator John F. Kennedy. From 1953 to 1958, she was a broker at Orvis Brothers, and then, for four years, she was vice president for public relations at Pepsi-Cola.

In 1962, she married Mr. Duke. His father, Angier Buchanan Duke, was heir to part of the American Tobacco Company fortune, most of which went to his cousin, Doris Duke. Mr. Duke’s mother was Cordelia Drexel Biddle, a Philadelphia socialite and writer. Mr. Duke had been President Harry S. Truman’s ambassador to El Salvador, and in 1963 he handled protocol for world leaders at President Kennedy’s funeral.

The Dukes had one son, Angier Biddle Duke Jr. Ms. Duke’s husband retired from diplomatic service in 1981. He died in Southampton in 1995 after being hit by a car while rollerblading.

Besides her work for women’s rights, family planning and health and education programs, Ms. Duke was on the boards of the Guggenheim Museum, American Home Products, Rockwell International, the Emigrant Savings Bank, International Flavors and Fragrances and other organizations.

She raised money and campaigned for presidential, congressional, state and local candidates, mostly Democrats, and was on a first-name basis with leaders in government, business and the arts.

She received many awards and was often in the news, even in her 80s, attending fund-raisers for her causes.

Besides her daughter Letitia, Ms. Duke is survived by two other children, Jeffrey Lynn and Angier Biddle Duke Jr.; two stepchildren, Marilu Duke Cluett and Dario Duke; and four grandchildren.

In an interview with New York magazine in 2005, Ms. Duke said her favorite job was working for The Journal-American when Fiorello H. La Guardia was mayor.

She said: “What a delight he was! Bloomberg has some of the same personality, you know. But I really loved La Guardia. I was one of the lone women wandering around, and I guess if you’re a young, pretty blond girl, that helps, but he was so nice to me.”

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Robin Chandler Duke's Timeline

October 13, 1923
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
February 6, 2016
Age 92
Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina, United States