In Honor of Ambassador Esther Coopersmith, Friend of International Heritage, Doyenne of UNESCO

ICOMOS-USA mourns the passing of Ambassador Esther Coopersmith, who died in her Washington, DC, home on March 26, 2024, at the age of 94. ICOMOS-USA awarded Amb. Coopersmith the “Excellence in Intercultural Dialogue” Award at our 2014 Gala Celebration of World Heritage. By that time Amb. Coopersmith had already played a central role in U.S. and international politics for over fifty years. Renowned for hosting extraordinary “bridge building” dinner parties, she believed in the power of conversation to overcome differences.

Amb. Esther Coopersmith was awarded the UN Peace Prize in 1984 – the only woman other than Eleanor Roosevelt to receive this honor.  She also served as an advisor to the UN Status of Women Commission in Vienna, Austria, and as American delegate to the 1985 UN Conference for Women in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2009, Amb. Coopersmith was designated a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for her “outstanding contribution to strengthening mutual understanding between peoples and her unfailing commitment to fostering intercultural dialogue.”

Jan C. K. Anderson, ICOMOS-USA Fellow, praised Amb. Coopersmith’s “indomitable spirit.” Jan remembered her in this way, “Ambassador Coopersmith was a legendary builder of bridges to achieve inter-cultural dialogue and peace. She had remarkable energy and vision and gave very generously of her intellect and her time to the work of cultural heritage around the globe. She clearly understood that heritage unites us and that it is an essential tool for peace. I am profoundly grateful to have known her. Ambassador Coopersmith was a great mentor, always very interested and supportive of one’s work and always very generous with her thoughtful and wise counsel.”

At the 2014 US/ICOMOS Celebration of World Heritage, Jan Anderson quoted the iconic Daniel Hudson Burnham statement in her introduction of the Ambassador.  She said, “Ambassador Coopersmith is a brilliant bridge builder, who exemplifies Daniel Hudson Burnham’s incisive exhortation, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” The Ambassador told Jan afterward how much she loved the Burnham quotation, and how very honored she was to have received the US/ICOMOS Award for Excellence in Intercultural Dialogue.

Ambassador Esther Coopersmith will be missed by many and most especially by those who seek inter-cultural dialogue, international cooperation, and peace, her life’s work.

Read more about Ambassador Esther Coopersmith Obituary

New York Times Obituary

Washington Post Obituary

IMAGE: US/ICOMOS Award for Excellence in Intercultural Dialogue presented to Ambassador Esther Coopersmith on Dec. 4th, 2014, at The Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C. Left to Right: Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO; Ambassador Esther Coopersmith; Jan C. K. Anderson, President of US/ICOMOS; Julian Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Ambassador Esther Coopersmith’s son, Mr. Jeffrey Coopersmith.

Photograph by Steve O’Toole

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