Lunch with US Ambassador Robert Sherman
Date: Friday, January 13th
Time: 12.15 - 3.00pm
Location: Sheraton Lisboa Hotel and SPA
It was 1945 and World War II was drawing to a close. While Portugal had remained neutral during the war, Lisbon in the first months of 1945 was still rife with the espionage activity of Axis and Allied forces alike. In anticipation of an imminent Allied victory, a group of American businessmen resident in Portugal began to get together for lunch to discuss business opportunities that would open up in post-war Portugal.
Over the next two years the group grew in number, as it was joined not only by arriving entrepreneurs, but also by members of the American diplomatic community. In 1947 a committee was formed to draft a constitution and by-laws, thus formalizing the structure into what became "The American Men's Luncheon Group", a name it kept for more than 20 years. Although documentation of the formative years is sketchy at best, existing records show that the objective of the Luncheon Group was "to cultivate social relations among American residents and travelers in Lisbon and non-Americans with definite American interests".
By 1954 membership had grown to 127, of which 50 were non-American, and the organization began to undertake several activities which remain regular features of the Club today. Regular luncheons were held at the old Hotel Aviz, providing a relaxed yet professional setting for American businessmen and like-minded Portuguese for an informal exchange of ideas and mutual assistance. Occasionally a prominent member of the Portuguese government, the business community or the diplomatic corps was invited as guest of honor to address the group.
Officers of the original group also spearheaded the organization of a Fourth of July Community Picnic, first held in 1954 at Guincho, as well as organizing other social events from time to time. From early on, the Club has concerned itself with charitable donations and for many years contributed generously to a boys' orphanage in Estoril. Since the mid-1960s the Club has supported the American Scouts in Portugal, at first only morally and later helping out financially.
While a scholarship for a selected Portuguese student to study in the United States was discussed in 1960 - and dismissed as financially unfeasible, it was not until 1969 that the Club entered into a joint program with the Fulbright Commission. The Club takes pride today in its Academic Awards Program, shared with the Luso-American Development Foundation, allowing two Portuguese students annually to visit American universities.
The first American Club Golf Tournament was held in 1970 in conjunction with the American Women's Club. It is not clear as to how many of these tournaments were held during the politically rocky years ahead, but in 1980 the golf tournament with an awards dinner was such an enjoyable and well attended affair that it has continued annually as a major Club activity until 2004. Other activities of the early 70s included a father/son Christmas lunch and the organization of a Thanksgiving church service.
When the Hotel Aviz closed down in 1961, the group moved its regular luncheon meetings to the Hotel Tivoli, raising the cost of lunch from 65 to 80 escudos per person! While costs certainly rose dramatically over the next 25 years, American Club lunches were traditionally held at the Tivoli, until an equally dramatic rise in Club membership during the 1980's necessitated a change to the larger Hotel Sheraton. Curiously, the Sheraton was built on the site of the old Aviz.
Ever mindful of its aim to promote American-Portuguese relations on an informal yet professional level, it was during the 1960's that the Club became widely recognized as an important meeting place for business-minded Americans, Portuguese and other nationals with American interests. Membership doubled to over 250 during this period, as more and more distinguished guest speakers attracted a larger attendance at monthly luncheon meetings. In 1965 Col. John Glenn addressed 270 members and guests, and on two separate occasions in 1967 Dr. Franco Nogueira - then Minister of Foreign Affairs, was the guest of honor. Other speakers during the 1960s included Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman - who was introduced as "recently returned from the moon", Dr. Adriano Moreira, James Michener, Dr. Francisco Pinto Balsemão - then a young director of Diário Popular, and even Amália Rodrigues, to name but a few.
In 1968 the Group changed its name to the American Club of Lisbon (ACL) and issued membership cards featuring crossed American and Portuguese flags, thus bringing it more in line with the times and the prestige it now enjoyed. Indeed, according to a note written by a businessman in 1969, the American Club had become the "In" luncheon club of Lisbon, not only because of the wide variety of top-notch speakers it attracted, but also because of its growing number of prominent Portuguese members.
Although membership in the ACL was open to all Americans residing in Portugal, that of non-Americans was based strictly on the individual's "definite American interests" and for many years it was policy that the number of associate members (non-American) not exceed 50% of the total membership. By 1968 this policy was abandoned due to the growing interest of Portuguese nationals who wished to have access to what had come to be regarded as an excellent forum for the exchange of ideas.
During the confusion and uncertainties which followed the April 25th Revolution, the Club became the only independent and impartial forum for speakers in Lisbon. Under the leadership of Jim Pritchard, the Club invited select members of the rapidly changing constitutional governments, as well as key figures from several of the major political parties to express their views before an enthusiastic audience. In 1974 alone, guest speakers included the Minister of Economic Coordination, the Minister of Labor, Brig. Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho (COPCON), and Dr. Mario Soares - then secretary-general of the Socialist Party. During "Hot 1975", speakers included Vice-Adm. Rosa Coutinho (Revolutionary Council), journalist Vera Lagoa, U.S. Ambassador Frank Carlucci, and Dr. Rui Machete (PPD), followed in 1976 by Dr. Sá Carneiro, Gen. Galvão de Melo, and other men of the moment too numerous to list here.
From its original number of approximately 30 members in 1947, membership in the American Club had increased gradually to approximately 320 in the early 1980's. It was during the ten-year presidency of Ed Kane, however, that Club rosters swelled dramatically to its record size of over 700 members.
Under the leadership of Ed Kane, efforts were redoubled to foster Luso-American and international relations by drawing together an even greater number of professional Americans, Portuguese and citizens of other friendly nations who might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet each other. American Club lunches began to draw its guest speakers from the highest levels of government, as well as continuing to invite distinguished Americans and others with views of particular interest to the membership. In their various political capacities, Dr. Mario Soares has addressed the Club no fewer than nine times and Dr. Cavaco Silva six times. Dr. Jonas Savimbi, President of UNITA in Angola, attracted a record-breaking audience of nearly 400 people in 1991. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Russian Ambassador shared his perceptions of the situation at the American Club. More recently, both Prime Minister Guterres and President Sampaio have not only been guest speakers, but are currently members of the Club as well. In 1998, Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, added his name to the list of distinguished speakers.
While the American Club functioned as a formal organization, it was not officially recognized as such until its legal registry on April 22 1986. Although the objectives of the Club remained basically the same, various structural changes have taken place since its inception in 1947. To assure an American identity, only American members can vote or be eligible for election to the Board of Directors, although associate members can be named as non-voting advisors. It appears to have been during the 1960's that the U.S. Ambassador to Portugal was first invited to take on the role of Honorary President of the Club and the Portuguese Ambassador to the U.S. was offered honorary membership.
Due to the temporary and transient nature of American businessmen in Portugal, elections to the board of directors were held annually and between 1954 and 1983 the Club was led by 18 different presidents, usually for a term of one year. Through re-election, notable exceptions to this trend were Amb. Lincoln MacVeagh (1958-62), Col. James Pritchard (1974-78), Edward Kane (1983-93), and Blaine Tavares (1994-2005). Both Edward Kane (1993) and Blaine Tavares (2006) have been awarded the Ordem do Infante D. Henrique by the President of Portugal, at private ceremonies, in recognition of their contributions to foster relations between the United States and Portugal.
For the first three decades of its existence, the American Club had no address it could call home. Each president worked out of his own corporate office and lunch reservations were mailed directly to the hotel holding the event. When Miss Ellen Broom was hired as Corresponding Secretary in 1976, she generously contributed her office space for the centralization of all Club correspondence and records. Upon Ellen's retirement in 1995, the Sheraton Hotel gave the Club a room for its new headquarters and a modern office was fully equipped as the result of a very successful fund raising appeal to the membership.
Although even today the Club is erroneously referred to as "The American Men's Club", gender has never been a criteria for membership; nor did the subject arise, since the Club has long had a cooperative agreement with its "sister" club, the American Women of Lisbon. When in 1975, Marcia Myers, then Executive Assistant to Amb. Carlucci, requested membership, her application was accepted with enthusiasm, thus paving the way for other female members. Today women represent nearly 15% of total membership and the Club elected its first woman president in 1994.
The membership can be proud of the role the American Club of Lisbon has played in the international community in Portugal. It is important to recognize, however, that while the people who have been the driving forces behind the Club have been predominantly business and professional people, the overriding theme of Club activity has been the human sphere of international relations, goodwill and understanding between people and cultures.