James W. Symington was born on September 28, 1927, attended schools in New York City and St. Louis, Missouri, then Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. After serving in the Marine Corps, he entered Yale College where he studied history and sang in the Glee Club and the storied Whiffenpoofs, graduating in 1950. Attending Columbia Law School, he married Sylvia Schlapp and returned to St. Louis as assistant city counselor before entering private law practice.
In 1958 Ambassador John Hay Whitney engaged him as his assistant at the U.S. Embassy in London. A series of jobs in Washington followed, including deputy director of President John F. Kennedy’s Food for Peace program, administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and director of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency. He was named Chief of Protocol by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.
In 1968, he was elected to represent Missouri’s Second Congressional District, eventually chairing subcommittees on Space Science and Applications; Science, Research & Technology; and International Cooperation. After four terms in Congress, he co-founded the law firm
Smathers, Symington & Herlong, which represented clients in the United States and abroad. Having studied Russian and traveled widely in that venerable country, in 1992 he helped found the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation (ARCCF). He also served as director of the Atlantic Council and as director of the Library of Congress’s Russian Leadership Program.
He and Sylvia, parents of two grown children and grandparents of five, live in Washington, D.C., and Middleburg, Virginia.