Cover photo for Robin Chandler Duke (Tippett)'s Obituary
Robin Chandler Duke (Tippett) Profile Photo
1923 Robin 2016

Robin Chandler Duke (Tippett)

October 13, 1923 — February 6, 2016

Robin Chandler Duke was born Grace Esther Tippett in Baltimore, Maryland on October 13, 1923. She changed her name to Robin Chandler when she went into broadcasting in New York in the ‘40’s. She was a champion of women’s health and reproductive rights, a corporate executive and board member on some of the nation's largest companies, a journalist and a U.S. ambassador. Duke died on Saturday Feb. 6th at Bishop Gadsden retirement community in Charleston, SC at the age of 92. Duke began her working life at the age of 16, joining her sister in New York, where they supported themselves and their mother. Duke was a floor walker in assorted department stores in New York and was a model at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. In the 1940s, Duke was a panelist on an early television talk show “Leave It to the Girls” created by pioneering broadcast journalist Martha Roundtree. Duke worked as a writer for the women’s page at the New York Journal American (1944-46) before marrying Warner Brothers’ actor, Jeffrey Lynn, and moving to Los Angeles. Returning to the east coast in the 50’s with two children, Jeffrey and Letitia, Duke worked at WCAU –TV (an NBC affiliate in Philadelphia) and as an anchor on the Today Show with Dave Garroway where she covered the 1952 Democratic Convention. Duke divorced Lynn in 1958 and became one of the few women stockbrokers on Wall Street, working the commodities desk for Orvis Brothers (1953-58) before becoming VP of International Public Relations at Pepsi Cola (1958-62). At Pepsi Cola, Duke created a promotion in Africa that led to a four-month tour of West Africa with Louis Armstrong and his band. In 1959, she attended the Moscow Fair where she helped orchestrate the placement of Pepsi in the hands of then Vice President Nixon, who was on a state visit, and Premier Nikita Khrushchev for a unique promotional photo with the marketing slogan — “Be sociable, have a Pepsi”. While arranging the U.S. premiere exhibition of the Peruvian Inca Gold in the lobby of the Pepsi Cola building on Park Avenue, she met Angier Biddle Duke, whom she later married in 1962 and followed to Washington, D.C. where he was serving as Chief of Protocol for President John F. Kennedy. Mr. Duke was a scion of the family that made its fortune in tobacco and founded Duke University and Duke Energy. Following the death of JFK, Duke worked alongside her husband who served as Ambassador to Spain, Denmark and Morocco before moving to London, where Duke struck up a lifelong friendship with General William Henry Draper Jr. who convinced her to serve as Co-Chair of Population Action International (’75-’96). Draper helped establish the organization in response to the growing economic and environmental challenges of the global population explosion. Duke's leadership of Population Action International led to her serving as trustee of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and president of the National Abortion Rights Action League's Pro-Choice America and the National Abortion Rights Action Committee and consultant for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. She spent thirty years advocating in the United States and abroad for women’s access to birth control, family planning, family health care and education. Duke was a fierce and tireless lobbyist in Congress fighting against measures limiting women's access to contraception and fighting for funding both at home and abroad for family planning and health care, particularly for the poor. 'You want to lift Africa out of poverty?' she was known to ask rhetorically, 'Well, then, give women access to contraception and clean water.' Duke was an ardent Democrat and proudly called herself a New Yorker, despite stints living elsewhere. She campaigned unsuccessfully but ardently for U.S. Representative from New York’s 'silk stocking' district when the seat was vacated by Ed Koch who became Mayor in 1978. In another life, she would have loved to be a senator. In every facet of her life, from the boardroom to embassies, from the ski slopes to the streets of her beloved New York, Duke was a force. Always impeccably dressed and elegantly-mannered, Duke was fiercely opinionated, outspoken, and ready to roll up her sleeves and go to work for the people and causes in which she believed. In 2000, Duke was appointed Ambassador to Norway by President Clinton. She had previously served with the title of ambassador at the 21stGeneral Conference of UNESCO, the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in 1980. At the Bishop Gadsden retirement community in Charleston, S.C., where she spent the last few years of her life, her mostly conservative co-residents called Duke the “Resident Communist” for her liberal outspokenness on every issue. She loved that. Duke served as a board member, trustee and chair of numerous corporate, foundation and organization boards, including: the UN Association of the United States of America, Guggenheim Foundation, Rockwell International (’77-’95), American Home Products Corp. (AHP), International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF), Emigrant Savings Bank, Worldwatch Institute, World Childhood Foundation, International Rescue Committee, Institute of International Education, Population Action International, Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, Millennium Project of the Friends of Art and Preservation of Embassies, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, US - Japan Foundation, World Affairs Council, and the Advisory Board of the Tolstoy Foundation. Duke was also a longstanding member of The Council on Foreign Relations, The Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Colony Club and The River Club of New York. Duke received many awards but was most proud of the Mary Lasker Social Service Award (1991) and Planned Parenthood Federation’s Margaret Sanger Award (1997). Duke leaves three children, who tried in vain to keep up with her: Jeffrey Lynn (Fla.), Tish Lynn (S.C.) and Angier Biddle Duke, Jr. (Vt. and L.I.), two step-children, Marilu Duke Cluett (Vt.) and Dario Duke (Washington State); her daughter-in-law Idoline Duke and four devoted grandchildren, Maggie and Nick Valiunas, Ellie and Angie Duke and many friends and admirers. Don’t take any wooden nickels, Mom. Family will receive friends at the home of Ms. Lynn at 18 Queen Street on Thursday, February 11th from 4-7PM. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a contribution to the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation at: www.heirsproperty.org.
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