Helene A. von Damm

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Helene A. von Damm
Helene A. Von Damm 1982.jpg
United States Ambassador to Austria
In office
May 10, 1983 – January 15, 1986
Preceded by Theodore E. Cummings
Succeeded by Ronald S. Lauder
Personal details
Born (1938-05-04) May 4, 1938 (age 79)
Ulmerfeld, Amstetten, Austria
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Charles McDonald; Christian von Damm; Byron Leeds; Peter Gürtler
Occupation Diplomat

Helene Antonia von Damm (born May 4, 1938) is a former United States diplomat and Ambassador to Austria who also worked as an assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

Early life[edit]

Helene von Damm was born Helene Antonia Winter in Ulmerfeld (now part of Amstetten), Austria in 1938.[1] She had a tumultuous childhood, marked by the Second World War, the Soviet occupation, and the death of her father from tuberculosis when she was twelve years old. She recalled that she "had a difficult time digesting" the things she witnessed as a child, and dreamed of "a better life in places far away."[2]

In 1958 von Damm married a U.S. Army corporal named Charles McDonald and emigrated to the United States. In 1959 the couple settled in Detroit, where she found work as a typist and immersed herself in politics.[2]


Following her 1964 split from McDonald, von Damm moved to Chicago and worked as a secretary for the American Medical Political Action Committee. It was in that role that she first met Ronald Reagan during a speech in 1965.[3] Having experienced communism first-hand in Austria, von Damm was deeply critical of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and was attracted to Reagan's political vision. "Reagan was one of the few people who spoke totally differently," she said. "He made a lot of sense to someone who had just come from socialism. Johnson wanted to change things back to what I'd left. I resolved that if Reagan ever ran for office, I'd try to get on his team."[2]

She moved to California in 1966 to work for Reagan's gubernatorial campaign. She started as a scheduling assistant, and in 1969 was appointed as his personal secretary. She continued working with Reagan through his two terms as governor. She then served as his executive assistant during his business years, and as a finance director for nine northeastern states during the 1980 Presidential campaign. After Reagan was elected president, von Damm was named Director for Presidential Personnel, and held that position for two years until 1983.[1]

Von Damm was appointed US Ambassador to Austria in 1983. She served for just over two years before resigning in 1986.

Personal life[edit]

von Damm divorced her first husband in 1964, after growing restless with what she described as her former husband's lack of ambition. In 1971 she was remarried to Christian von Damm, a Bank of America executive of German descent.[4] The marriage did not last, as von Damm notes that she had difficulty reconciling her demanding career with domestic life.[2]

She married her third husband Byron Leeds in 1981. Leeds, a Morris County, New Jersey computer industry consultant, had been an old friend. However, he remained in New Jersey while she was working in Washington. Following her diplomatic appointment to Austria the couple grew further apart, and they divorced soon after. While in Austria she married her fourth husband, Peter Gürtler, owner of Vienna's luxurious Sacher Hotel (himself very recently divorced).[2] The relationship became a subject of public fascination, and eventually von Damm decided to signal her intention to resign. In June 1985 she cabled a resignation letter to Washington, indicating that it was "the interests of our country" that she step down.[5]

She left her post in 1986, and divorced Guertler the next year. He committed suicide in 1990.[6]

List of positions[edit]


  • Von Damm, Helene (1988). At Reagan's Side: Twenty Years in the Political Mainstream. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-24445-9. 

Sincerely Ronald Reagan, Green Hill Publishers, Ottawa, Illinois, 1976


External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Theodore E. Cummings
U.S. Ambassador to Austria
Succeeded by
Ronald S. Lauder