Ambassador James Palmer Cain

By Rick Smith


To James Palmer Cain, Ambassador of the United States of America to Denmark, serving his country is a matter of great pride.

"I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve my country," said Cain, a long-time Raleigh attorney and Republican who signed on to the ambassadorship at the request of President George W. Bush following the 2004 election.

"I came of age in the generation between Vietnam and Desert Storm. In the last three decades, I have had great opportunities and have worked with some wonderful people in the private sector, the legal world, the community, and in professional sports," he explained. "But I have not [until now] had the privilege of performing direct service for America. To have the chance to represent to the world the values that America stands for is an honor of the highest magnitude."

Since launching his legal career in 1985 as a co-founder of the Raleigh office for the law firm Kilpatrick Stockton, Cain has been a fixture in local politics and legal circles. He also spent time with the Carolina Hurricanes when the National Hockey League franchise decided to relocate to Raleigh and was actively involved in the selling of the naming rights to the RBC Center. Cain now jokes that the naming rights deal may have been his first diplomatic assignment.

His introduction to diplomacy came in the summer of 2004 when President Bush dispatched him as an emissary for a mission to the Philippines. "I had not considered diplomatic service prior to that invitation," Cain recalled. Then came the big promotion to becoming ambassador to a NATO ally and a key supporter of the United States in the war on terror.

A Ronald Reagan Republican, Cain remembers attending his first political event for Reagan in 1976 in his hometown of High Point. "His inspiring message of freedom, personal responsibility and family values stirred the passions within me," Cain recalled. Reagan went on to become president in 1980. "As history has shown, Ronald Reagan was right," Cain said, "and his message of hope still drives me today."

Cain, who graduated from High Point Central in 1975 and went on to undergraduate and law degree work at Wake Forest University, has put aside state and national politics now. He is involved in international diplomacy, a role he takes quite seriously.

"As US Ambassador, I am the President's personal representative to the people of Denmark, his eyes and ears on the ground so to speak," Cain explained. "I am here to represent American interests and advance the relationship between two great friends and allies.

"I sometimes think that what our ambassadors and embassies do is one of America's best-kept secrets. We work to advance the President's commitment to creating a world in which the American people can be secure and prosperous and see their deeply held values of political and economic freedom increasingly realized by people throughout the world. This is the great challenge of the post-9-11 world, and Denmark's support in both material and moral terms has been absolutely unrelenting. It makes me very proud to serve in Copenhagen."

The job can be grueling, too. Cain pointed out that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whom he described as a "remarkable woman," reminds ambassadors and staffs of their responsibilities. "As Secretary Rice reminded me, we are here to represent America 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it sometimes feels as if the schedule is booked all those hours!" Cain said. "Recently we had at the residence a reception for the New York City Ballet that went on until 2:30 in the morning, and then we had a Congressional Delegation of 20 US Senators and Congressmen arriving four hours later, so that was a typically busy couple of days."

Cain moved to Denmark along with his wife Helen and daughters Cameron, 15, and Laura, 12. The worst part of his job, he said, is "being away from our friends in North Carolina." They have managed to find time to travel and play tourist, especially in their host country. The Cains have also had to adapt to becoming press personalities.

"The first trip to the girls' fashion section of Magasin, the big department store, with the two bodyguards in tow was a bit unnerving," he said. But he noted, "[T]he press here is much more polite than in the states. The photographers actually ask the girls for permission before they snap their photographs for the glossy magazines!"

Despite the rigors of his job, Cain manages to keep up with some heavy reading. He has three books going at a time, including a history of Denmark, a thriller from Dan Brown and a book about the leadership of Billy Graham.

As for being any part of an American royalty as an ambassador, Cain dismissed the notion.

"The misconception about ambassadorial life and royalty is a very common one," he said. "I'm here to represent the American people, and after all, we fought a war a couple hundred years ago in America to reject a monarchy, so there can be no question of royal airs!

"Of course, there are receptions and ceremonial functions, but most of my day's agenda is very down-to-earth, ranging from meetings with business leaders to promote US exports, outreach to young people and ethnic minorities to strengthen our shared values and understanding, and speeches and interviews with Danish media to explain our policies.

"My job is to maintain contact between the US government and the Danish government as well as to reach out to Danish society at large, and to do this in a way that promotes freedom, progress and human rights in parts of the globe where people are struggling. This is important and demanding, but far from as glamorous and romantic as many people assume.

"As ambassador, I am at the sharp end of international politics-where it really touches peoples' lives. It is an exciting job and one that is challenging and rewarding every day."