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From Brookings to ambassador

Posted: Thursday, Mar 29th, 2012

U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Laurie Fulton speaks to press in Copenhagen, Denmark. Fulton is a Brookings High School graduate and will be back in the city in May to speak at SDSU. Courtesy photo

• Laurie (Klinkel) Fulton now representing U.S. in Denmark

Laurie Fulton remembers the Brookings address where she grew up: 518 20th Ave. She’s far from there now – in Copenhagen, as U.S. ambassador to Denmark since July 2009.

Fulton has led an interesting life since graduating from Brookings High School in 1967, a member of the last class from the old school building. She’ll return to Brookings again May 5, as a commencement speaker for South Dakota State University.

Fulton, formerly Laurie Klinkel, moved to Brookings in fifth grade. She attended SDSU for two years after high school, at the same time David Chicoine was a student.

“Loved SDSU, but then I married – in June 1969 at the Catholic campus parish in Brookings – I married Tom Daschle,” she said.

Daschle was in the Air Force, which sent the couple first to Colorado and then to Omaha, Neb. Fulton graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1971 with a double major in psychology and Spanish.

Fulton and her husband, Daschle, came back to South Dakota to work with Mitchell native George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign, then went to Washington, D.C., as staffers in 1973. In 1978, Daschle was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, so the couple again moved to Washington. In 1983, while Daschle was serving his third term in the House, the couple divorced.

From 1982-1985, Fulton was executive director of Peace Links, an organization dedicated to involving mainstream women to end the threat of nuclear war, engage in peace-building and promote alternative means of resolving international conflicts. She served on its board of directors from 1989-2000 and was honored in 2002 with the Pioneering Peace Builder Award by the National Peace Foundation.

Fulton has also served on the board of directors of the United States Institute of Peace and was co-chair of the USIP International Advisory Council. She has been active in various community and non-profit organizations, including Bright Beginnings, Inc., the Women’s Advisory Board of the Girl Scouts of the National Capital area, the Georgetown University Law School Admissions Interview Program, and the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation.

When in her mid-30s, Fulton decided to go back to school for her law degree: She graduated from Georgetown Law School, magna cum laude, in 1989.

“Certainly through college, I intended to go to law school. But then I was involved in other, interesting things,” she said.

She became a partner at Williams & Connolly LLP, a law practice in Washington, D.C. According to a biography provided by Fulton, her law practice included complex civil litigation, government investigations, and white-collar criminal defense. In 2004 she was named one of “Washington’s Top Lawyers” by Washingtonian magazine.

But in 2009, Fulton saw a chance to become ambassador to Denmark.

“This was, for me, such a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “I have Danish heritage and Danish relatives. So this was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent the country I love, my beloved country the United States, to my second most favorite county, Denmark, and to be part of the administration of President Barack Obama in a way that I thought I could add value.”

Fulton said the Scandinavian influence in the Brookings area when she was growing up helped her to understand the Danish culture. It’s also in her bloodlines: her maternal grandfather immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1910; her great-grandfather served in the Danish parliament from 1918 until 1940.

As ambassador, Fulton represents President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Denmark. She meets with members of the Danish government, attends meetings between President Obama, Clinton and cabinet members and Denmark’s Prime Minister – currently Helle Thorning-Schmidt – and does a lot of public speaking.

“I am particularly focused on young people, because Denmark is one of our best partners and allies, and we’d like it to be one of our best partners and allies in 20 years,” Fulton said.

When she can, Fulton visits Brookings. She was back for her 40th high school reunion in 2007, and took a bike ride around town with friends to visit their favorite places, and then went kayaking on Lake Oakwood.

“I have great memories, particularly of growing up in Brookings, which was big enough to be interesting,” she said. “It had a great public library; with the university it had great events. We had several movie theaters and often interesting events at the theaters. It was a great place to grow up, but also I had the opportunity to do so many things when I was in school.”

When she speaks to SDSU graduates in May, she’ll talk about making the most of South Dakota. “We too often underestimate how well we measure up against the rest of the country and the rest of the world. And I think we have a very unique opportunity growing up in South Dakota, and South Dakotans I know who live in Washington and other places are really in high positions,” she said.

“I think it’s in part because we gain a solid footing and a solid education and we gain some confidence from living in a small community, that I think gives us real advantage if we choose to live somewhere else.”

Contact Charis Ubben at cubben@-brookingsregister.com.

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