It was a poignant moment for Lois Dickson Rice.

At a news conference last week in Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama nominated her daughter, Susan Rice, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a Cabinet member in his national security team.

Cameras snapped and flashed. Reporters asked questions. Dickson Rice was there, with several other family members, soaking it all in.

”We all just wallowed in the occasion,” Dickson Rice said.

While Dickson Rice has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for most of her life, she was born and raised in Portland and spends three to four months a year at her summer home in Lincolnville, just north of Camden.

Her daughter’s nomination, which will go to the U.S. Senate for confirmation in the coming weeks, has cast the spotlight on the accomplishments of a prominent American family and its sturdy Maine roots.


Dickson Rice’s upbringing by hardworking, determined parents formed the foundation of her career in national higher education and, in turn, laid the groundwork for her daughter’s rise in international politics.

Susan Rice, who was a foreign policy adviser for Obama’s campaign and is a member of his presidential transition team, declined to be interviewed for this story but offered a brief e-mail response. ”My family has been a constant source of great strength and inspiration for me,” Rice wrote. ”My maternal grandparents emigrated from Jamaica to Portland. They had little formal education, but working menial jobs, they managed to send all five of their children to outstanding colleges. My parents, in turn, taught me to always do my best and that no dream was too bold to embrace.”

Rice, 44, was assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1997 to 2001 and worked with the National Security Council from 1993 to 1997, during the Clinton administration. She was senior national security adviser for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004. More recently, she was a senior fellow on leave from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

She is not related to Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of state.

A talented writer and speaker, Rice gave a rousing keynote address at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration in Portland in January. She has a bachelor’s degree in history from Stanford University, and a master’s degree and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, which she attended on a Rhodes Scholarship.

”She always excelled in school and developed an early interest in politics and public policy,” Dickson Rice said of her daughter. It helped that she grew up in the nation’s capital, where she went to school with children of congressmen and diplomats. She also worked as a page, an intern and a research assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives during high school and college.


Rice’s father is Emmett J. Rice, a retired senior vice president for the National Bank of Washington and a former governor of the Federal Reserve. Her husband, Ian Cameron, is executive producer of ABC’s ”This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” They have two children, Jake, 11, and Maris, 6.

Dickson Rice, 75, is a former vice president of the College Board and a former advisory council chairwoman of the National Science Foundation. Today, she is a Brookings guest scholar in higher education.

Dickson Rice’s parents, David and Mary Daly Dickson, were Jamaican immigrants who married in Portland in 1912, shortly after they came to Maine’s largest city.

David Dickson worked as a janitor at Cressey & Allen, a company on Congress Street that sold sheet music and instruments. He started a community service club for blacks in Portland before World War II and later was active in the NAACP Portland Branch.

On his janitor’s salary, the Dicksons raised five children in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood. The four oldest, all boys, graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick; two became physicians, one became an optometrist and one became a college president.

Dickson Rice, the baby sister, was valedictorian of Portland High School in 1950 and was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate and class president at Radcliffe College in 1954. She later received honorary doctorates from Bowdoin College and Brown University.


”My parents were very motivated people, especially in terms of educating their children,” Dickson Rice said. ”They had never heard of a scholarship. Daddy just mortgaged and re-mortgaged our home to put us through college.”

Mary Daly Dickson was named Maine State Mother of the Year in 1950. Dickson Rice wrote about her mother in a full-page Portland Sunday Telegram article on the award:

”Her children not only were fed and clothed well, but had to perform and appreciate music, read good books and cultivate learning in every form,” Dickson Rice wrote when she was 17. ”When she discovered abilities in her children, she and her husband literally moved financial obstacles of mountainous proportions to educate them … in the best colleges and universities.”

Dickson Rice said she and her first husband, Emmett J. Rice, had similarly high expectations for their own children.

Their son, John Rice, graduated from Harvard and Yale and is the founder and chairman of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization that recruits and mentors minority students for the nation’s top business schools.

Since Obama nominated Susan Rice to be U.N. ambassador, political pundits have lauded and criticized his choice, depending on where they stand on national security issues and what they think of Obama’s plan to reform U.S. foreign policy.


Dickson Rice said her daughter is up for the challenge. ”She’s seasoned and she’s tough,” she said.

She said her daughter’s nomination was the highlight of a year that, with the election of the nation’s first black president, has been extraordinary for many blacks.

”This is a transformational moment in our country,” Dickson Rice said. ”I didn’t know what to do with myself the day after the election.”

Dickson Rice met Obama early in the campaign.

”I found him both inspired and inspiring,” she said, and she believes his genuine warmth, intellect, calm and organization will make him a good president.

Dickson Rice said she’s proud to have raised a daughter who is one of Obama’s trusted advisers and could play a key role in improving U.S. foreign relations in the years ahead.

”It’s been a fantastic journey,” she said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.