Meet Ambassador Mark Gilbert

July 31, 2015 by Keren Cook
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Meet Mark Gilbert, United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and involved in Limmud later this year.

Nancy Gilbert and husband Ambassador Mark Gilbert

Nancy Gilbert and husband Ambassador Mark Gilbert

Ambassador Gilbert, 58, is now making his name as an Ambassador ‘down-under’. Ask new United States ambassador Mark Gilbert and wife Nancy about their introduction to Kiwi culture and they are spilling over with new experiences.

Flat whites – a new find, and one Nancy loves; hongi – one of their earliest experiences on Kiwi soil was at the Treaty Grounds on Waitangi Day. That, along with their early experience of the Maori culture, has left a deep impression on both of them.

“We come home and talk about it,” says Nancy. “It is more than what we envisioned and it’s beautiful and it’s special and important and it pierces you.”

Educated at Florida University, Gilbert formerly served as a Managing Director of UBS, the culmination of a distinguished career in finance, which included positions at Barclays and Goldman Sachs. From 2009-2013 he served as the Deputy National Finance Chair for the Democratic National Committee.

He was also President and Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee of B’nai Torah Congregation (1994-2007). His wife Nancy owns The Masorti Travel Bureau which developed the itinerary of the first trip of Birthright Israel, an organization that arranges free trips to Israel for first-time visiting Jewish students ages 18 to 25

An investment banker for 29 years and a prominent fundraiser for President Barack Obama during both campaigns, Gilbert was nominated by Obama in 2013 and sworn in at the White House last January 2014.

Ambassador Gilbert is also a keen and accomplished sportsman. He played professional baseball for eight seasons, reaching the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1985. He is the first former major league player to become a United States Ambassador.

Mark Gilbert White Sox 1999

Mark Gilbert White Sox

But the way he sees it, his background also makes him the ideal candidate. Representing your country is like being on a team: it’s all about leadership and mentoring, he says. It helps also if you can call the president a friend – something the Gilberts have done since they met a young politician by the name of Barack Obama 10 years ago.

His teammates enthusiastically confirm his talents, saying he stood out: “You could tell he was quick. He was smart. He was articulate,” says La Russa, now the Arizona Diamondback’s chief baseball officer.

One coach recalls Gilbert performance saying he had “pure athleticism, no doubt about it. He got rid of the ball quickly, and obviously had a strong-arm and he worked every day to get better.”

During his 7-plus year baseball career, Gilbert said he “read everything” about investing, taxes and other weighty subjects, including biographies of prominent business people.

“Rather than working at the family furniture store, I decided to go the investment bank route,” says Gilbert. He is remembered for always carrying a briefcase according to Gilberts father Herb, who was an ex-professional baseball player. According to Herb, “his teammates called him ‘The Professor,’ “

Gilbert realized his dream of being inscribed in “The Baseball Encyclopedia,” proof of his time in the big leagues. Among the thousands of major leaguers listed in the large record book, Gilbert is the only U.S. Ambassador.

Ambassador Gilbert says he was surprised when he was approached about New Zealand: “I thought it would be someplace that is a banking or business centre”.

Looking after nearby Samoa is part of his role and he has embraced his new job half a world away, calling New Zealand “a very interesting country”.

His duties cover three key areas: diplomatic, which includes military and intelligence; building what he calls “people-to-people ties”, and helping develop business and commercial relations between the 2 countries.

Ambassador Gilbert will be presenting the Opening Plenary at this year’s LIMMUD festival to be held at Diocescan School, August 22-23, 2015.

Further information on LIMMUD and registration is available at http://limmud.org.nz/registration/

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