Vivien P. Woofter
Advisor Emeritus, The Fund to Conserve U.S. Diplomatic Treasures Abroad; former Historic Conservation Advisor, Office of Cultural Heritage
The establishment of the Office of Cultural Heritage and the Fund to Conserve U.S. Diplomatic Treasures Abroad were inspired by Vivien Woofter’s vision, dedication, and perseverance. An accomplished interior designer whose career spanned four decades, Mrs. Woofter began government service by participating in a project to restore the East and West Wings of the White House. She would become the White House interior design director, responsible for these spaces as well as the Old Executive Office Building, Blair House, and Camp David. In the late 1960s, as a senior interior designer for the General Services Administration, Mrs. Woofter’s projects included military hospitals, officer’s clubs, congressional offices, and all of the Navy Flag Residences, including that of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Chief of Naval Operations. She is credited with having developed a standardized signage program that was incorporated into all military hospitals.
In 1977, Mrs. Woofter was called upon to undertake additional projects that included the newly constructed Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), The Hubert H. Humphrey Building – a postmodern building at the foot of Capitol Hill designed by Marcel Breuer and Herbert Beckhard. In recognition of her work in designing the building’s interior spaces, Mrs. Woofter received a Federal Design Council Award of Excellence. That same year, the Department of Health and Human Services issued the first regulation implementing Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which required that programs and activities to which it provided federal funding accommodate the disabled. Mrs. Woofter was assigned the important job of developing the furniture systems to meet these requirements. Her contribution to workplace accommodation was cited in the Congressional Record. Mrs. Woofter also initiated an art program for HHS facilities throughout its eight regions of the United States. Placing art in new public buildings was an innovative concept at the time. It was embraced by the city’s museum community, as well as by museum professionals throughout the U.S.
In 1981, Mrs. Woofter joined the U.S. Department of State, becoming the senior interior designer and assistant chief of the Interior Planning and Design Division of the Office of Foreign Buildings, the forerunner of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations. She became division director in 1988, a position she held for sixteen years. Her interior design projects ranged from the new U.S. embassy chancery in Lisbon and Kuala Lumpur to Riyadh, where she established an art program for the permanent placement of art in these missions. Her residential design projects included chief of mission and consul general residences in Calgary, Ottawa, Rome, Florence, Mogadishu, Brussels, Geneva, Istanbul, Canberra, Paris, and Buenos Aires.
One of Mrs. Woofter’s most significant career achievements was spearheading the effort to obtain professional appraisals of the art, furniture, and antiquities contained within the U.S. embassy properties in Rome – a model that would be repeated in U.S. embassy properties worldwide. Beginning in 1983, this systematic evaluation and recording of high value objects ultimately resulted in the creation of the Office of Cultural Heritage in 2015, a program to document, manage, and care for the U.S. Department of State’s overseas Heritage Collections, as they are now called, and historic buildings. An avid preservationist, Mrs. Woofter raised funding through private, foundation, and corporate donors to undertake two major historic restoration projects in Paris – the Rothschild Mansion (now the residence of the U.S. ambassador), and the George C. Marshall Center in the Hôtel Talleyrand. The projects were featured in Paris Match, the Chicago Tribune, House and Garden, and Southern Accents.
Mrs. Woofter holds two U.S. Department of State Meritorious Honor Awards (1988, 1998), and in 2016 was named Advisor Emeritus of the Fund to Conserve U.S. Diplomatic Treasures Abroad by Department of State Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. A native of West Virginia, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 1998 from her alma mater, the University of West Virginia, which inducted her into its Distinguished Alumnae Academy in 1992.