Leaving behind true friends was only one of the unexpected pleasures for Julie Jacobson during her four years in Ottawa.
Julie, wife of US Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, chats with Ottawa At Home about her time in Canada, the role she played, the friends she met and the impact the country has left on her. The dynamic woman shares her personal style and considers the pros of having a staff to look after the fine details while she and David have graciously welcomed visitors into the residence that they have called home for the past four years. Photographer Michel Gamache had fun capturing the annual Embassy of the United States of America's Fourth of July celebrations.
What has your role been, within the Embassy, here in Ottawa?
I work primarily with the public affairs/public diplomacy officers. The current head of public affairs calls me their "rainmaker", i.e. I'm out in the community meeting people and hearing about interesting projects. I'll often bring these ideas to the Embassy and if I get the green light I help facilitate the programming. A recent example of this is the screening of the documentary "Girl Rising" at the National Gallery of Art. I heard about the film, and worked with the Embassy to bring the producer, director and two of the writers to Ottawa. We had a full house for the screening, and the audience included about 100 educators and students from local schools and many government officials and representatives from NGOs. We also took the film team to local schools and arranged media opportunities for them.
I also spend a lot of time hosting receptions and meals, on my own or with my husband, for a myriad of different groups; cultural and charitable organizations, government and military groups, and leaders in business and education.
How have you involved yourself within the local community?
One of my favorite activities has been volunteering at Manor Park Elementary School. Through OCRI's "Ottawa Reads" program, I have been reading to students for all four years and also hosting a year-end picnic for my class at the residence.
I've also been very involved with the Ottawa Writer's Festival, the National Arts Centre, the Ottawa Art Gallery, Capital Region Habitat for Humanity, and many other groups.
And I've been fortunate to find a wonderful group of local friends with whom I enjoy the region: cross-country skiing, biking, Pilates classes and casual gatherings.
You and David are known to have had a fondness for Canada, what are some highlights from your travels here?
We have visited every province and it's very hard to pick a favorite place because I have had incredible experiences in each one. Of course we had an extraordinarily great time at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. I also loved the natural beauty and the important history of Campobello International Park, which straddles New Brunswick and Maine. Going to Gander, Newfoundland for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was very moving and the people were so warm and welcoming. It's hard to beat the turquoise waters of Lake Louise and nearby lakes for gorgeous scenery. I've been wonderfully entertained at TIFF in Toronto and at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I could go on forever…
How have you put a personal stamp on the US Embassy annual Fourth of July celebration?
There is a huge team at the Embassy that does most of the heavy lifting for this party. It requires serious "battle planning". But I attend all the meetings and have a lot of input on invitation design, menus and entertainment. The party seems to have gotten much larger and more elaborate in the years before we arrived, and I've tried hard to bring it back to a good old-fashioned picnic feeling.
Your home has always been a welcoming place to visit here in Ottawa, how do you think this is a reflection of you?
David and I both made a commitment from Day 1 to make the most of every minute here. We have been excited about participating in so many local events and meeting such a wide variety of interesting and accomplished Canadians, visiting Americans and diplomats from other countries. We start every event at the residence by greeting each visitor at the door. I hope that our guests have felt that we were happy to have them at the house, because we were!
What is your personal entertaining style?
I don't often get to display my personal style here at the residence, but the "real me" is very casual. When we're in Chicago, we own fine china, crystal and silver…but rarely use them. At home, meals are more often buffet-style and I like to use my large collection of colorful ceramic dishes and platters.
That said- I've certainly enjoyed having the excellent staff here at the residence and the gorgeous formal events that we host. Having so much support allows me to entertain far more often, and to spend my time focusing on my guests' comfort…not on whether the roast is burning.
What will you take home from your time here in Ottawa?
Most importantly, lifelong friendships. That was the real surprise of this experience. I knew we'd meet a lot of people, but assumed that at the end we'd go home to our "real friends". I feel as close to my Canadian friends as I do to my American friends. Lucky me to have both!
And I'll go home with a great deal more knowledge about Canada and a treasure trove of memories.
On a more material level, I'll go home with spectacular souvenirs, including several Canadian landscape paintings that we have purchased and which will serve as a constant reminder of the best four years of our lives.