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Margaret Robbins

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Margaret Robbins Obituary
Margaret Biddle Robbins Ambassadress in Spain, WWII Supreme Allied Headquarters veteran , head of women's affairs for the U.S Armed Forces, humanitarian, and a matriarchal figure in Biddle, Drexel, and Duke families, died at age 97, peacefully at her home in Waverly Heights, on Philadelphia's Main Line on June 17, 2013. Born Margaret Atkinson in 1915, in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, Margaret Robbins was the eldest daughter of parents who had both served in WWI. At 18, she left for Chicago to pursue higher education and an early business career, returning in the beginning of WWII to be commissioned as an officer in the Canadian Army, and ultimately assigned to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) under General Eisenhower, in France and Germany. On remote assignment during hostilities, she was exposed to combat, and immediately after cessation, was engaged in spiriting high-value individuals and numerous refugees out of the newly established Soviet zone of Germany In 1946, she met and married Soldier/Diplomat Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr, of Philadelphia (formerly U.S. Ambassador to all the European Governments-in-Exile, and at that time Chief of the Allied Contact Section of SHAEF). In Germany she played a leadership role in the fledgling U.N. Relief & Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA), which followed the troops into the concentration camps, and founded the Conference of Women's Activities in Europe, to spread the work throughout the war-torn continent. Meanwhile, cousin-by-marriage Francis Biddle, U.S. Judge at the Nuremburg Trials, regularly engaged her as hostess for all of his official social functions. Through her work and her husband she was acquainted with Edward VII, Winston Churchill, and struck lifelong close friendships with Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, the Eisenhowers, and the Kennedys. In 1949 she became a naturalized citizen of the United States. During the 1950's Margaret moved to Pennsylvania where her husband, Gen. Biddle, had been appointed Adjutant General of that which was his home state. In addition to attending now to her two young children, including providing them home-schooling, she held a range of civic responsibilities. She served on the Boards of the Army Distaff Foundation, the Crown Princess Martha Foundation, the Pulaski Foundation (Chairman), and Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel University School of Medicine). In 1958, President Eisenhower appointed her to Chair the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (effectively Deputy Defense Secretary for women's affairs in the Armed Forces). In addition, she was a member of Purdue University's Old Masters Program, and a Judge for the 1959 Miss America Pageant. In 1960, President Kennedy convinced General Biddle to return to diplomacy and go to Spain as only the second U.S. Ambassador since the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Development of the relationship with Generalissimo Franco was then a critical element of U.S. foreign policy. As Ambassadress, Mrs. Robbins executed a social and civic schedule whose rigor was a designed element of the plan to win the favor and ultimately the alliance of the Spanish Government. She met with every one of her counterparts in the Madrid diplomatic corps individually, hosting major State, civic, and philanthropic affairs, and oversaw the completion of the new Residence on the grounds of the Embassy. When her husband fell severely ill, she was obliged to take on many of his duties. His illness proved terminal, and prior to her return to the U.S. with family and household, the Spanish Government decorated her with the Bow of Isabella la Catolica, the highest honor then given to a woman in Spain. From that point, she devoted all her energies to making a home for her children, respectfully declining several appointments suggested by President Kennedy to high office in his Administration. She chose Philadelphia, traditional epicenter of the Biddle Family, and her husband's often stated hope. She settled in Gladwyne, on the Main Line. In 1969, with her children now in college, she was remarried to Col. Edwinston L. Robbins (USAF, Retd), who had been a colleague at SHAEF, and had remained a close family friend. They resided in France, near Cannes in winters and in Gladwyne in summers, and travelled extensively until his passing in 2001. Throughout Margaret Robbins' life, her hallmark was her grace and loving kindness, which endeared her to heads of state and household staff alike. She is survived by her son, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle III of Rock Hall, MD, her daughter Meg Biddle of Monterey, CA, her sister, Miriam Reeves and nieces Sandy Reeves and Peggy Jensen of Moncton, N.B., Canada, nephew Bill Reeves of Toronto, Canada, and four grandchildren. Her ashes will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery, next to Ambassador Biddle's grave, in late summer. Stuard F. Home

Published in Main Line Media News on July 14, 2013
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