THE IRON BUTTERFLY

Eloise Randolph Page

Eloise Randolph Page, a Virginian to the core, began her Central Intelligence Agency career at the CIA’s founding in 1947 and served for 40 years in clandestine operational assignments. Miss Page was secretary during World War II to Army Maj. Gen. William E. Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services, which was the espionage service that preceded the CIA. With the founding of the CIA, she transferred into the organization and made espionage and intelligence her life’s work.

A couple of people that are standing in a room

Description automatically generated

In 1978, she became the agency’s first female station chief, assigned in Athens, where three years earlier, Marxist terrorists had assassinated CIA station chief Richard Welch. She became one of the CIA’s experts on terrorism, and after her 1987 retirement from the CIA, she was a consultant on terrorism to the Defense Intelligence Agency and a teacher at the National Defense University.

From 1975 until she retired, she had been the CIA’s highest-ranking female officer.

At the CIA’s 50th anniversary observance in 1997, Miss Page was among 50 CIA officers who were honored with Trailblazer Awards for their career service. Her Trailblazer citation called her “a role model and . . . first female Chief of Station, first female super grade, and the first woman to head a major intelligence community committee . . . a champion of using technology to solve operational problems.”

Miss Page, a native of Richmond, was a member of a Virginia family that traced its roots to Col. John Page, a founder of the city of Williamsburg and member of the British Royal Governor’s Council who died in 1692.  Her extended family included the Randolph’s of Virginia and Washington, D.C., the Pages, the Dunnings, the Harrisons and the Mitchells, all of Virginia.   She wore her Virginia heritage like a badge of honor and was often described as comporting herself like the quintessential southern lady. She insisted on being addressed as “Miss Page,” not “Ms. Page.”

She was petite and small-boned, with bright eyes and a slight smile that often appeared ready to break out in a grin. She spoke with a southern drawl, and she loved to talk about the romance and mystique of the Old South and her southern upbringing.

But in the tangled thicket of the defense establishment, she was said to have been tough and determined, and a skilled and effective player in the bureaucratic survival contest. She knew how to get things done. High officials of the Defense Department sometimes called her “the iron butterfly.” She could speak in a sweet and gentle tone, but at the same time be sharp-tongued and merciless in dressing down general officers and deputy assistant secretaries.

Her career included directing the intelligence committee that focused on the most important problems facing the United States in the area of national defense, and she was an advocate of the use of technology to conduct espionage operations.

But to those outside the intelligence community, Miss Page was an unlikely espionage operative. She wore white gloves and conservative dresses. St. John suits and Ferragamo shoes became her trademark. Rarely was she seen in slacks. She was a Sunday school teacher at Christ Episcopal Church in Georgetown, where she had also served on the vestry and directed the Altar Guild and the flower committee. She was in charge of the choreography and decorations at weddings, and, as with everything else she did, she took this responsibility seriously.

As chair of the Altar Guild, she was a perfectionist. Altar linens would be sent back for reironing for the slightest wrinkle. She often brought her personal prayer books — many of which dated back generations in her family — to prayer meetings, and she was a regular reader of the Psalms.

Aside from her church and her career, the major loves in her life were her dogs, golden retrievers that sometimes accompanied her on foreign assignments.

Miss Page was a graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke. She also had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in political science from George Washington University. She had an honorary Doctor of Laws from the National Defense University.

At her retirement in 1987, she received the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

She was a member of the Sulgrave Club, the Society of Colonial Dames and the District Garden Club.  She died in 2002 at the age of 82.

A most amazing woman.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.