Robert Pence GRD ’05 was nominated earlier this month to serve as the United States ambassador to the Republic of Finland. Subject to Senate confirmation in early spring, Pence will succeed Charles C. Adams who served as the ambassador until January 20, 2017.
Pence is the founder and chairman of The Pence Group, a development company established in 1977 and best known for developing and managing “world class shopping centers and hotels, as well as office buildings throughout the United States,” according to its website.
Pence also serves as a board member of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which supports U.S. veterans, first responders and their families. He has served on the boards of The World Affairs Council, George Mason University, American University, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Wolf Trap Foundation. Pence told the News that he will be transferring power over his businesses to his three sons so that he can devote himself to the ambassadorial position.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Maryland, Pence went on to obtain a Doctor of Jurisprudence and multiple master’s degrees from American University as well as two master’s degrees in Italian from Yale. Pence told the News he is still working on his Ph.D. thesis at Yale and intends to complete it by next May.
“I feel very humbled at the opportunity to represent the United States of America,” Pence said. “Finland is an increasingly important place geopolitically because it has an 800-mile border with Russia and has a long history of being the center of political events — Helsinki Accords come to mind first and foremost. There is a wonderful opportunity for improving relations [with Finland] now and I’m looking forward to participating in that process.”
Pence said he was also interested in working with Finland because of its cross-border economic and business relationships with the U.S., its position in the European Union and the fact that, despite not being in NATO, it is “very much aligned with the West.”
As ambassador, Pence said, he is particularly excited to work on enhancing cross-cultural ties between the U.S. and Finland and bringing American to Finland to perform.
Pence added that he has already started watching Finnish movies and reading Finnish literature and hopes to be “reasonably conversant” in the language.
“The least I can do is try to become somewhat competent in the language and literature, and I’m already working heavily on both literary texts and Finnish movies,” he said. “It’s a broad interaction of cultures and we are at a crossroads in that area because of the geopolitical situation, and Finland is right in the middle of what is going on.”
Giuseppe Mazzotta, an Italian professor and Pence’s thesis advisor, said Pence has always been an unusual student. Pence enrolled at Yale relatively late in his life to study Dante — something he had wanted to do since he was an undergraduate. Originally, Mazzotta said, he was not sure Pence would go through with the degree, but he soon realized that Pence’s passion for Dante and literature was genuine.
Mazzotta added that Pence approached the literary tradition in an unconventional way because, as a lawyer, he brings a “legal frame of mind.”
“He’s always asking questions about the justice of punishment like exile, what happens to the people who are not in favor of the country or patriotic, and this is in 14th-century Italy,” Mazzotta said. “But I know he’s basically thinking about his country, this country …. He is certainly intellectually curious, he is open-minded about Europe and about relationships between the United States and Europe. He is a guy with the human touch. I think this will serve him well.”
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