Ambassador for Christ now U.S. emissary to Portugal
When he and his wife Mary first fell in love with Portugal – during their first visit to Fatima in 2014 – former Portland Legate George Glass couldn’t fathom being named as America’s top U.S. diplomat there.
Glass had worked on President Trump’s 2016 election campaign, as well as on his Catholic Advisory Board. “During that process, there comes a time when they ask if you are interested in serving in the new administration,” says Glass, 57, who served several presidential campaigns over decades, and always declined such opportunities for family and work reasons. “This time the timing was perfect. Our youngest had graduated from college, and I was ready to take on a new challenge.”
Though Glass was elated at Mr. Trump’s incredible invitation, it entailed difficult changes. For starters, he was asked to temporarily disengage from his current business associations (including Legatus) during the vetting process, and for the four-year duration of his post. Likewise, he and Mary knew that they may not see their immediate family – three grown sons and a new granddaughter – for months, even years, on end.
He describes the “pack out” that the government did to move them deftly overseas.
“A group of six to eight people come to your house and begin in one corner, and pack and move every single item out in two days. If you have garbage under the sink, that is packed and moved with the rest. I couldn’t find Mary, and then came upon her standing in the driveway crying as the trucks drove off. That was the moment we knew we wouldn’t be seeing our family for quite a while.
Previously, Glass was owner and managing partner of MGG Development LLC, a commercial enterprise that purchases and operates apartment complexes and rental homes. He was also founder, president, and vice chairman of Pacific Crest Securities (1990-2014). He likewise served as a trustee for the Oregon Health Sciences University and for the University of Oregon.
“But this was the role I could now see myself in, because both Mary and I felt so strongly attached to this country and its people,” says Glass, who was promptly confirmed by the Senate last July, and has been in his new post in Lisbon since last August.
Glass is both the representative of the president to the Portuguese government, and the head of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Portugal, which maintains a combined staff of almost 200 employees from both countries. His first priority is to ensure the safety and security of American citizens in Portugal and beyond. He also partners with the Portuguese to promote America’s economic prosperity and friendship with their people. “It’s a 24/7 job, but I love it,” Glass says.
First Catholic ambassador in years
As the country’s first Catholic U.S. ambassador in years, Glass says his faith certainly played a role in why he sought the post. “It was during our initial trip to Fatima that we fell in love with the people, their culture and values,” he says. “The 2014 year was very difficult economically for Portugal, and as we travelled around we witnessed an incredible sense of community, work ethic, and resiliency that the Portuguese and Americans share. We knew then we’d come back – we just didn’t know it would be in this role. And I am honored to have been chosen by the president to fulfill it.”
Portugal, which is roughly 80 percent Catholic, “is a place where there is a wonderful ‘toast’ to Catholicism,” says Glass. “Their religion is a fundamental background to all that they do, and they enjoy expressing their beliefs openly.” Fatima permanently changed the way he and his wife looked at the Catholic faith, and he describes it as “a place where miracles occur. The power of the Virgin Mary – working together with God – is simply unsurpassed.” This past spring, they attended Fatima’s celebration of its 100th year, and Mary Glass visits Fatima at least twice monthly, about an hour from their Lisbon residence.
Faith and politics mix
“This past May, we joined in the open street procession in celebration of Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Miracles),” says Glass. The four-and-a- half-hour procession before tens of thousands of spectators – an event that’s been a tradition in Ponta Delgada for over 300 years – was incredibly moving and faith-affirming for them both. “
We processed for hours on a carpet of flowers, with a bodyguard on each side, and were the only ambassador-couple doing it,” Glass recalls. “As ambassador here, my personal and professional life is constantly intertwined with my Catholic faith. It is important to be able to share in that faith which helps me understand and connect with the Portuguese people and their history.”
When it comes to being Catholic, outside of Rome “I don’t know how it could get any better,” Glass says of his experience in Portugal. “When I arrived and handed my credentials to the president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, he asked if I was a believer in Fatima. When I answered ‘Of course, Mary Ambassador for Christ now U.S. emissary to Portugal and I say a rosary to her every day,’ he said that made me as much Portuguese as he was. I tell everyone that Portugal is one foot closer to heaven than almost anywhere on earth.”
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.