Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 746

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 746

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This is the grave of Nicholas Rey.

Born in Poland in 1938, Rey was a baby when the Nazi-Soviet Pact split apart his nation. Luckily for him, his family managed to flee and ended up in the United States. They knew the U.S. ambassador and were able to get safe passage on a diplomatic convoy out of Poland in September 5, 1939. They were members of the Polish intelligentsia, coming from old Polish elite backgrounds, and knew the Nazis would kill them.

Rey grew up in New Hampshire, the Bronx, and the Philadelphia, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1946. The family became downwardly mobile after his Rey’s father decided to open a textile mill in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1950, just at the time all the other mills were closing and moving south. So that wasn’t a great idea. Rey went to Princeton in 1960 and then with a master’s from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in 1963. He took a job with the Treasury Department in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, staying there until 1968 and then moving to other jobs in the agency.

Not a fan of Richard Nixon at all, Rey then went into finance, taking a position at Merrill Lynch in 1971. He became managing director at both Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch at various times. He became a member of the foreign policy establishment over the years. He was a leader of the National Democratic Institute, founded in 1983 to push democratization across the globe. He was director of the Polish-American Enterprise Fund and co-founder of the American Polish Advisory Council. The Polish-American Enterprise Fund was a late Cold War agency founded in 1990 and dedicated to promoting the free market in the nation that had just thrown off its communist leadership.

In 1993, Bill Clinton named Rey ambassador to Poland. It was a key time in that nation. This was of course right after the end of the Cold War. Eastern Europe was facing west for the first time. Rey played a key role in shepherding Poland into NATO. He would admit he was a political appointee, someone who came from old Polish money who would make the new Polish government happy to be able to talk to someone who knew them and who spoke their language. There was a big enough Polish-American community in high end Democratic circles, particularly Zbigniew Brzezinski, to make it happen. Rey also had a close ally in AFL-CIO head Lane Kirkland, who was more concerned about fighting communism than organizing American workers. So they both lobbied Clinton to appoint Rey. He later credited Lech Walesa for making him understand the necessity of expanding NATO. He stated that when he was introduced to Walesa, the Polish leader lectured him for a half-hour about how the Russians were going to strike back if the West didn’t provide the cooperative protection that NATO could offer. Rey stated that Clinton or most Americans didn’t really understand how necessary NATO expansion was yet and that reporting back Walesa’s fervent pleas made a big difference.

There is very little information out there on Rey, but he did this very long oral history. If you want more, you can check it out. I borrowed some of this for the post, but I don’t have time to read the entirety of 90 page oral histories for a grave post.

Rey died in 2009 of lung cancer, at the age of 70.

Nicholas Rey is buried in Memorial Cemetery of Saint John’s Church, Laurel Hollow, New York.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader donations. Thanks! If you would like this series to visit other Polish-Americans, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Charles Bukowski is in Rancho Palos Verdes, California and Mike Royko is in Chicago. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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