Photo credit: Misc.

“We intended to actually host a party for her in our home and in person, but obviously that was not a good idea so we feel like this is the next best thing. We have our cocktails ready and we’re prepared to have a great conversation with Capricia tonight and toast this great achievement,” said Lee Satterfield zoomoing in from ‘a very hot and humid South Carolina’ with her husband Patrick Steele.

The occasion was the virtual launch of Capricia Penavic Marshall’s just released book PROTOCOL: Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You co-hosted by Diana and Michael Allen, Robyn and Jeremy Bash, Evan Ryan and Tony Blinken, Rachel and Phil Gordon, Alexis Herman, Gwen & Ambassador Stuart Holliday, Philippe Reines, Andrews Shapiro, Ann & Stuart Stock.

There are many definitions of protocol and diplomacy, but Winston Churchill said it best: “Beats War.”

Book synopsis: President Obama’s former United States chief of protocol looks at why diplomacy and etiquette matter—from the international stage to everyday life.

History often appears to consist of big gestures and dramatic shifts. But for every peace treaty signed, someone set the stage, using hidden influence to effect the outcome. In her roles as chief of protocol for President Barack Obama and social secretary to President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, Capricia Penavic Marshall not only bore witness to history, she facilitated it. From arranging a room to have an intended impact on the participants to knowing which cultural gestures earned trust, her behind-the scenes preparations laid the groundwork for successful diplomacy between heads of state around the world and tilted the playing field in her team’s favor.

If there’s one thing that working at the highest levels of government for over two decades has taught Marshall, it’s that there is power in detail and nuance—the micro-moves that affect the macro-shifts. When seemingly minor aspects of an engagement go missing or awry—a botched greeting or even a poorly chosen menu—it alters the emotions and tenor of an exchange, setting up obstacles rather than paving a way forward. In some cases, an oversight may put the entire endeavor in jeopardy. Sharing unvarnished anecdotes from her time in office—harrowing near misses, exhilarating triumphs, heartwarming personal stories—Marshall brings us a master class in soft power, unveiling the complexity of human interactions and making the case that etiquette, cultural IQ, and a flexible mind-set matter now more than ever. When the notion of basic civility seems to be endangered, Protocol reminds us how critical these principles are while providing an accessible guide for anyone who wants to be empowered by the tools of diplomacy in work and everyday life.   Courtesy of HarperCollins

Photo by Janet Donovan

“Capricia is highly engaging, hardworking, thoughtful and creative and she’s had a distinguished career,” added Satterfield.  “I’ve personally learned so much from her over the years, including working for her as her deputy in the Office of Protocol where I saw firsthand the difference it makes to pay attention to the details. I love this book because it’s filled with interesting stories – many I lived through – and it also has relevant and important advice for how protocol and diplomacy are applied in high stakes situations, but also how it can be useful in everyday aspects of our lives.”

Several co-hosts then weighed in on their friendship with Capricia after her opening background commentary.

Capricia: “I didn’t know at the time, but I found much later that my upbringing was quite unique, much more so than any of my friends at school. I am first generation American, my parents being from Mexico and Croatia – then communist Yugoslavia – and is where daddy had escaped from. We grew up in Cleveland, Ohio in my grandmother’s home, which was one half of a duplex. My aunt and uncle lived on the other side of our home. So many languages were spoken. It was not only Spanish and Croatian, but we had relatives that were Polish and Italian and our neighbors across the street were Lebanese and down the street were Russian. Everyone came to my grandma’s home to enjoy [not only] the friendship, but really to celebrate, celebrate with fantastic food from all over the world and to celebrate each other’s cultures. There was always joy in that there was great honor and excitement about celebrating different cultures.”

Capricia with her husband Dr. Rob Marshall    Photo credit: Courtesy of Zimbio

“But I also learned while I was growing up,” she added, “that there was a lot of discrimination as well, being different and having a different skin color or having a thick accent like my dad did. My father spoke with a very thick accent and was often called in my earshot a displaced person – a dumb DP as they put it. I could tell that it hurt him. There’d be those cringing moments and certainly I would pain inside my heart for him. So when I was given this wonderful job of Chief of Protocol and the opportunity to celebrate the difference of cultures to shine that bright light on those beautiful differences, I did it with great gusto. I wanted to wipe away those smears of discrimination and showcase how great it is that we are different and how those differences should be embraced. And so it was my tremendous honor then to teach the cultural nuances to Secretary Clinton and to President Obama so that when they were exchanging, collaborating, negotiating with leaders, their counterparts in different parts of the country, it gave them an edge. It gave them that negotiating edge to know the cultural differences, to know the proper greeting when they entered a discussion with the prime minister of India, to understand a certain holiday if they were traveling somewhere in the Middle East and the importance of that. So I was really proud that that all started back in Cleveland, Ohio.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of MSNBC

Philippe Reines:  “I’ve known Capricia for I guess 18 years. We’ve been basically comrade in arms. We’ve been disliked by the same people at the same time. We’ve been on the outs with the same people at the same time. We had been brought in by Hillary when things were bad at the same time. And I had the pleasure of basically living the [book] with Capricia for four years at State. I don’t need to say too much about her because we all know her and she’s just one of the most pleasant people. But the two words that always come to mind are just unflappable and fun and you don’t see that too often in a job or a role that’s typically pretty stiff, no offense to her predecessors that are on this call, but she’s just a fun person to be around. She’s a fun person to be around when you need to have some fun when things are not fun, when things are tense and she never fails.”

Ambassador Stuart Holliday: “Capricia and I met a while back. I was a quote “Bush Republican” which I don’t know what that is anymore. I think it’s called a conservative Democrat now. I happened to be a Deputy Director of Presidential Personnel for a little while and everybody wanted to be Chief Protocol. And a lot of people wanted to be Chief of Protocol for them and they wanted to be swanning around. They asked how often would they fly on air force one? Would they get the portal service? The portal is a car service, you know. There were all these kinds of questions, but you did something different. You took care of both of your bosses (Hillary Clinton & President Obama) which you’re sworn to uphold – both the Secretary of State and the President, which is hard to do because a lot of Chiefs of Protocol have to kind pick one or the other. And the International Diplomatic Corps in Washington; you initiated and developed a series of programs for the Ambassadors in Washington and you gave them a picture of America that they hadn’t seen before.  [You saw] the importance of  helping the foreign diplomats in Washington when you have easily just been just doing your White House and your State Department work. You really cared for them and helped build bridges with them.”

Amb. Stuart Holliday is President and CEO of Meridian International Center

Tony and Ambassador Dwight Bush: “We’ve known Capricia since 1992. We met Capricia through the relationship between Vernon Jordan and Hillary and bill Clinton and we’ve celebrated Christmas Eve together I guess for maybe 20 years and we have traveled together. Capricia worked with Tony for a while and we actually consider the Marshalls to be a part of our family. So for us, it’s great to have this celebration of your book. Let me ask you a question. So for those of us who served overseas, we understand the importance of developing these relationships with diplomats to meet the objectives and goals of the administrations in Washington, DC.  You were known as the Diplomat’s diplomat in that you are somehow able to corral all these different people and sometimes in a room there would be people who came from different perspectives on issues. Tell us a little bit about how you were able to herd all these cats in Washington, DC to be successful for two different administrations.”

Capricia: “I was very lucky to have been granted the position of Social Secretary by my mentor Hillary Clinton. I joined the campaign very early on and she gave me a great job right in the White House working alongside of her. And while I worked alongside of her, I really learned so many wonderful lessons. I understood the importance of creating those important networks. While I knew I was stepping into some huge, huge shoes when Ann Stock left that position, I was ever so grateful to her as well for teaching me the importance of bringing in as many people as possible into the White House, the people’s house to celebrate everything that the Clintons had on their agenda, from all of the social cultural events to the policy initiatives that we launched on the South grounds; so again and again, at a very early on in my career, I learned the importance of outreach, the importance of inclusion and bringing people into experiences, career. And that only expanded onto the global stage when I was offered the position of Chief of Protocol. It was a wonderful experience. It was important in that position creating those essential social networks and making sure that people from all backgrounds understood what the foreign policy goals were of the administration and how we’re attempting to achieve it so that they had a front row seat in every one of those in initiatives that were being launched by either The Secretary or The President. So I was very lucky in having both of those positions offered to me and being able to learn the valuable lesson of inclusion and building those important networks that led to very strong relationships.”

 Photo credit: Courtesy of Daily Mail

Tony Blinken and Evan Ryan: “I’ve known Capricia for 25 years or close to that. When I first got to know Capricia, it was sort of by dating Evan and thus being a sort of honorary member of Hillary-land, I was super intimidated by Capricia. That was definitely the first impression, but then we got to know each other on a lot of these trips and I had the pleasure of working with her in the Clinton administration and then again in the Obama administration. During the Obama administration we had a state visit that was incredibly high stakes from the leader of a very, very large country, very important to The United States. And there was a lot going on – huge concerns by this country coming in about how their head of state was going to be treated, concerns about various problems that could emerge. It was just fraught from beginning to end. And after the visit was over, the next day I got a call from the Ambassador of this country and he said, ‘I’m calling to thank you. I want to thank you for your Chief of Protocol.’ We’d never had a visit like this, Everything we were concerned about somehow she got ahead of and managed to solve or resolve before it became a problem. There’s a little bit about the magic that goes on behind the scenes, behind the curtain that people don’t see. They see the results of what you’ve done. They see two Presidents or the Secretary of State working together, acting together at a state dinner, but so much goes into that and are the sort of secrets of the magic that goes on behind the curtain.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of AP

Capricia: “I’m going to give you a story back to talk through the importance of  these details that I talk about that matter in protocol, all of these nuances that sometimes are taken for granted and people don’t understand that they really do matter and they add up to making major impact.  if you recall, the G-20 when we were traveling to Mexico and it was the first visit that President Obama had with President Putin as President again. I visited with you all in the NSC to find out exactly, you know as I normally did, what were are our goals in this bilateral meeting?  What are we trying to achieve so that I could think through them and decide how do we put these pieces together? I understood it very tense meeting – high stakes, big issues are going to be discussed. So we walked through it all from the place where I was going to be greeting him and where we were going to be taking him, who exactly was going to be in the meeting. What was the size of the table? What was the lighting in the room? All of those details down to the size of the room we wanted to make sure that it was a [tight world]. There was a little bit of heat when Hillary showed up and there was this like single moment.  It started to take them off guard a little bit. President Obama was brilliant at that. Watching he and Hillary together, it was almost like a ballet in action. They were exquisite in their bilateral diplomatic exchanges with one another. And that instant, you just saw Putin was just ever so slightly off guard. Chalk one up for the USA.”

Jeremy Bash: “I just want to echo that you are the best our country has to offer and I hope you find ways to continue to serve. We’re all used to reading books by disgruntled former government officials. I think you and I, and others on this call are the opposite of it. Maybe we can call ourselves gruntels. So as grunteled, former officials, I hope you continue to serve and write and talk about your experiences. You know, everybody thinks that it’s all about the talking points and it’s all about the positions of your nation in a dialogue, but how personal relationships play a role in my experience, they’re very important. How does that play into diplomacy and high stakes national security decision-making?”

Photo credit: Courtesy of The White House

Capricia: “Often that leadership comes from decisiveness and strength. I learned firsthand from two amazing presidents that empathy, humility and creating collaborations were their greatest strengths. Both President Clinton and President Obama understood the real importance of putting themselves in their shoes and understanding their pain and feeling their needs. The same could be said about Secretary Clinton.Also  Vice President Biden. There isn’t, I think, any human being with a more empathetic soul. It is so unique and authentic. And that also gives them a wonderful advantage when they’re dealing with their counterparts. It definitely comes through in their manner of negotiating and positioning themselves in that they often times would make their counterpart understand.They would lift them up with that empathy and they would embrace them and empower them to make the deal to move forward with the treaty, whatever it was. They were wonderful at it, seeing that through not by sheer brute force and pounding fists and getting in an argument, but really putting themselves in the position of the other. That is a unique talent and one that I have witnessed personally again and again. It serves presidents well and certainly serve sour country incredibly, incredibly well.”

The above conversations have been edited for brevity purposes.

Ann Stock, who preceded Capricia as Social Secretary to the Clinton administration and was a co-host of the ZOOM event but was unable to join in because she was celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary where there was sketchy wi-fi, so we chatted with her by phone and asked her to talk about the role of a Social Secretary and her personal experience.

Capricia Marshall, Ann Stock and Rita Braver  Photo credit: Zimbio

Ann Stock: “First of all, I’d to start with what the job description actually is. The Social Secretary executes and develops and attends all the events for the President and First Lady in the White House and on the ground. That said, I probably would describe myself as having the back I needed for that job,” Ann told Hollywood on the Potomac. “I had the business experience. I was Vice President of special events at Bloomingdale’s. I had a nonprofit experience and I lived in DC, so that was very, very helpful. I worked in the White House for four years when I was in the press office of Walter Mondale, so I actually knew how the White House operated. I knew where the South Lawn was, so I had an advantage of four years of being familiar with the White House.”

“Right after the election [Clinton], I was supposed to have a 20 minute interview with Hillary Clinton that ended up being an hour and 1/2.  We talked about what she wanted to see done when she was in the White House.  She had probably read 40-60 books on the White House and on the First Lady. We just had this wonderfully interesting discussion. They wanted to be as inclusive as possible and make the White House to look like America.”

“Any memorable blunders?” we asked. “Well, I wouldn’t say that there was a blunder on events because we had a system in place and I kept one person ahead of President and Mrs Clinton and me to make sure that we didn’t have mistakes along the way. But there was one extremely embarrassing moment I will never, ever forget. During a meeting President Clinton looked down at my shoes and pointed out that my shoes were two different colors – same model, but one was black and one was blue and he looked at me and he said: ‘Do you realize you have on two different color shoes?'”

“What event or occasion was the most memorable event?”

President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Hillary Clinton stand with South Africa President Nelson Mandela and his daughter, Zinzi Mandela Hlongwane on Tuesday night, Oct. 4, 1994 at the North Portico of the White House. The Clintons are hosting a state dinner for Mandela. (AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander)  Courtesy of CNN

“October 1994, South Africa – Nelson Mandela. As people will remember, Mandela had been in prison for 28 years and he’d been to America once before that but the pressure on the guest for that dinner was tremendous. We actually moved the state dinner from the state dining room into the Eastern room so that we could accommodate 220 people. And it was extraordinary. Almost no one had a sick husband who wasn’t able to come, so we kept adding other events so that we could accommodate many more. People remembered that he led the fight against apartheid in South Africa and so everyone wanted to be there. But I think the thing that stands out for me most that night as a state dinner in Mandela’s post he said something to this effect  – this isn’t the exact quote, but he said something as effective as – ‘We break bread tonight in this symbol of democracy.’ We are reminded of what binds us together – Freedom.”

While on the subject of protocol, we decided to take a trip down memory lane by chatting with two former Chiefs of Protocol: Lloyd Hand and Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt.

Ann and Lloyd Hand.  Photo courtesy of LIFE

Lloyd Hand: “While in many ways being Chief of Protocol was different than my earlier positions as his Assistant when he was Senate Majority Leader and later Vice President, in many ways it was very similar,” Lloyd told Hollywood on the Potomac about serving President Lyndon B. Johnson in various capacities.  “As a White House officer, I was his personal Ambassador with the Diplomats as my principal constituency. I reported only to The President and to The Secretary of State.”

“I had studied international law but it aided me little. About 95% of my decisions were common sense and judgement that didn’t depend on a knowledge of precedence or protocol. For that, however, I had a fabulous staff who provided an indispensable knowledge of custom, cultures, rules and history that I needed every day,” he added.  “Bringing with me a long and intimate relationship with President and Ladybird proved enormously helpful. They trusted me and that job depended on it.”

On blunders: “It’s not easy to identify embarrassing moments—my job was to avoid them!”

On high points: “There were many high points. One of those that I recall was the very successful State Visit to Thailand where the Chief of State was not only their King but their God King! The visit was fraught with taboos, demanding cultural differences, and clashes of our Presidential requirements and theirs.”

About the Johnsons: “The opportunity to serve the Johnsons, the LBJ Administration and my country was a life changing experience for me—and for Ann. They both were so kind, generous, supportive and inspiring.”

Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt: “I had no idea I was being considered for Chief of Protocol when Mike Weaver telephoned to tell me they wanted to appoint me to that position. I was thrilled,” Amb. Roosevelt told Hollywood on the Potomac.  “Not the least bit daunting because I felt that my entire life up to that point had prepared me for it.  As a journalist,  I had covered the White House, the State Dept. and the Diplomatic Corps for years—writing a column called “Diplomatically Speaking” for the Washington Star.  Then I accompanied my husband to the consulate in Istanbul and then to the Embassy in Madrid and finally to London  .So I had a chance to be part of those diplomatic establishments and did a great deal of entertaining, cultural exchanges, etc.  Some of what I did was instinctive, but much of it was based on my knowledge of how diplomacy works—the pitfalls and the successes.  And I also had a very supportive husband who spoke a dozen languages and educated me about so many cultures which stood me in good stead.”

“I only worked for the President and loved him. My other boss was the Secretary of State,George Shultz.  Both were a joy to be around and both treated me with  respect and affection.  I, of course, interacted with Mrs. Reagan, but was not on her staff.   She always treated me with respect and I think she sincerely thought I was doing a good job and a credit to the administration.   President Reagan was terrific in dealing with our foreign visitors.  With his irresistible smile and warm approach , every head of state and official visitor that I accompanied to the Oval Office left with a warm feeling about our President and about the USA.  The Reagans were terrific hosts and gave a state dinner almost every month (except August and December) and these were a great  way to further our  foreign policy objectives. When Shultz became Sec.of State he sent for me to discuss the role of protocol.  He said: ‘When protocol goes well,  no one even notices, \ but when there is a goof, it is on the front page of  every newspaper.’ I never forgot that—and happily I managed to stay off the front page. In general, my wonderful protocol  team worked diligently to make our efforts a success.  I did have a couple of near misses when I was accompanying the Crown Prince of Japan  (later became the Emperor) and he was to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.   The Japanese embassy was responsible for furnishing the wreath, but my visits officer sent me a message—there was no wreath. All I said was —’Find a wreath.’ They did, but alas, it was rather ragged looking, but I was grateful for their ingenuity – especially when we got to the top of the stairs where the Japanese press was  waiting anxiously.My most successful time was the state visit of Gorbachev  to Washington and when we went to Moscow on a return visit.  It was the beginning of the opening to Russia—and I developed a happy relationship with my Russian colleagues as well as with Mr Gorbachev himself and his foreign minister Shevardnadze.”

“I loved my job—and I think to do it well you have to be a ‘people’ person—and have a good working knowledge of the world. (I got my Vassar degree in International relations),” she concluded.  “In the end, Protocol is good manners—for starters. I grew up in the South—in a Lebanese household where my parents were marvelous hosts and much loved by everyone who knew them.  They insisted that I greet guests and that I participate —and help my mother with the cooking. As a small child I lived for two years in Beirut and in our family village in the mountains of Lebanon. I heard three languages being spoken all the time. (French, Arabic and English).   Between my junior and senior year at Vassar, my mother took me abroad—and it was thrilling to visit various countries. Then I married right out of college and my husband and I traveled extensively.  All this helped me so much as I greeted over 1,000 visitors from almost every country in the world. Of course I would do it again if I could.”

Read more about Protocol here and find out some fun things that Capricia tells us from stretching the noodles, to Jimmy Carter kissing Queen Elizabeth on the mouth, to that moment on the steps that she doesn’t want you to remember.