Max Friedersdorf (1929-2020)
A former United States Consul-General to Bermuda who played a big role in a financial turning point in the island’s history was remembered this week as a valuable friend.
Sir John Swan, the island’s longest-serving premier, said that Max Friedersdorf, who died in Florida last month, aged 90, was “instrumental” in securing a crucial 1980s tax agreement with the US — which paved the way for massive American investment in the reinsurance industry.
Sir John said: “A lot of the consuls are politically appointed and do not have that reach into the White House.
“Max gave us the chance to go directly into the White House under President Ronald Reagan. He had also served under Gerald Ford and was very highly regarded.”
Sir John added that Bermuda’s tourism industry was in tatters in the wake of the 1981 general strike when he became premier in January 1982.
He said: “The strike shut down our tourism industry. I came into office and looked around and asked, ‘what do we do?’ We had to get the island back up and running.”
The 1988 tax treaty, sealed when Ronald Reagan was president, was a major factor in the growth of international business on the island.
Sir John said: “The foundation of that treaty is the foundation of what we have in Bermuda today.”
Mr Friedersdorf, originally from Indiana, served as US Consul in Bermuda from 1980 to 1982 and again between 1984 and 1985. He came to the job with impressive political credentials.
He started out as a reporter but switched to become chief of staff for Richard Roudebush, an Indiana congressman.
Mr Friedersdorf worked in the White House as a congressional liaison and presidential aide under Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ford and Reagan.
He was appointed chairman of the Federal Election Commission, created in 1974 to oversee political campaign finance regulations, under Democratic president Jimmy Carter.
Mr Friedersdorf was also director of the Senate Policy Committee and ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland.
Mr Friedersdorf and his wife, Priscilla, moved to Chelston on Grape Bay Drive in Paget, then the official residence of the US Consul-General, where they became Sir John’s neighbours and often visited him to use his tennis court.
Mr Friedersdorf, who was well regarded on both sides of the US political divide, arranged Sir John’s first meeting with Mr Reagan.
Sir John said: “It was a blessing. Max was with me when we went to Washington to meet Reagan in 1983.”
It was the first of several visits by Sir John and Cabinet Secretary Kenneth Richardson to negotiate the tax treaty that would become the foundation of modern international business in Bermuda.
Barbados was already forging ahead in offshore business through its own treaty, which added extra pressure to the bid for a Bermuda deal.
Sir John said he showed Mr Reagan a copy of a letter from US founding father George Washington in which he asked for Bermuda’s help during the American Revolution and for the theft of gunpowder from the British.
He added: “The Americans had made a commitment to us during the War of Independence, and I said I had come to collect.”
Sir John said Mr Reagan revealed his powers were limited because the Democrats had taken control of the Senate and the tax treaty took years of negotiations to get passed.
He added: “Max was instrumental in getting us acquainted, and he gave us sound advice. He helped put Bermuda on a very good course in our relations with the US.
“We would be in a different place today had that process not taken place. This was a major shift, and we were very fortunate.”
The Friedersdorfs were good friends with the Fords, who visited them in Bermuda, as did other prominent figures of the American political establishment.
Sir John said: “Through them, members of Congress and the Senate and various areas of the administration came down here, which helped in terms of building our image. We had a period of rapid growth.”
Mr Friedersdorf was later vice-president of global drinks giant PepsiCo, then returned to his original calling as a reporter — he became a sports writer and columnist for the Sanibel Island Sun in Florida.
Sir John said: “I want to extend my sympathy to his family on behalf of the people of Bermuda and to thank them for giving us a part of him, and him for giving of himself.
“He was not preoccupied with making wealth, but with public service. He was an American icon.”
Max L. Friedersdorf, former US Consul-General to Bermuda, was born on July 7, 1929. He died on May 31, 2020, aged 90
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