Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein: Who is Donald Beyer?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Among the European countries receiving a new U.S. ambassador who raised substantial amounts of money for President Barack Obama, France got an entertainment industry executive, while Belgium and Denmark each got well-known Washington, DC, attorneys. What did Switzerland and Liechtenstein get? Donald S. Beyer, Jr., a car salesman who served as lieutenant governor of Virginia in the 1990s.

Beyer was born on June 20, 1950, in Trieste, Italy, to U.S. Army officer Don Beyer and his wife, Nancy. The oldest of six children, he was raised in Washington, DC, and attended the all-boys Jesuit Gonzaga College High School. In 1968 he was a presidential scholar, a National Merit Scholarship winner, and graduated as class salutatorian.
He went on to Williams College in Massachusetts, and during that time he attended an Outward Bound course at Dartmouth College in January 1971, and attended Wellesley College as part of the “12 College Exchange” program. He received his bachelor’s in economics from Williams College in 1972, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude.
Following college, Beyer went to work for his father’s auto dealership and after taking over the family business, he built it up into an eight-store chain in Northern Virginia that sells Land Rover, Subaru, KIA and Volvo automobiles. With his growing wealth and business connections, Beyer became a player in Virginia Democratic politics in the 1980s.
He formed the Fairfax Democratic Business Forum to marshal the financial resources of Democratic businessmen in Virginia, and served as the Northern Virginia campaign manager for Democrat Gerald L. Baliles’ successful run for governor in 1985. Beyer also gave more than $50,000 to the campaign. In appreciation, Baliles appointed Beyer to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees the state Department of Transportation.
Beyer, who was divorced and had two children from his first marriage, met Megan Carroll, a television anchor for a Fairfax County cable station, during the gubernatorial campaign. The two were later married.
In the late 1980s Beyer decided it was his turn to run for office. He was prevented from running for the state General Assembly because the two districts where he lived were already occupied by Democratic stalwarts, and the local congressional seat was held by a popular Republican incumbent. So he took a shot at lieutenant governor. Many insiders didn’t give the novice Beyer much of a chance to succeed in the Democratic primary against state Senator Richard Saslaw. But to their surprise Beyer won the party’s nomination and the general election in 1989.
He first served under Democratic Governor Doug Wilder (1990-1994) and then Republican George Allen (1994-1998). The only meaningful task the lieutenant governor does is break ties in the state Senate. Aside from this occasional duty, Beyer chaired the Virginia Economic Recovery Commission, the Virginia Commission on Sexual Assault, the Virginia Commission on Disabilities, and the Poverty Commission.
After serving two terms as lieutenant governor, Beyer earned his party’s nod to run for governor in 1997. Facing Republican James S. Gilmore III, Beyer was on the wrong side of a debate about the state’s car tax, which his GOP opponent used successfully to gain the upper hand with voters and win the election.
Out of office, Beyer returned to running his auto dealerships. He also served on the Volvo International Product Development team, and was a chair of the National Volvo Retailer Advisory Board. In 2006, he served as chairman of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.
In 2004 Beyer was the national treasurer for Democrat Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. Beyer considered running for the U.S. Senate and challenging Republican incumbent George Allen. But once former Virginia Governor Mark Warner jumped into the race, Beyer decided to opt out of the Democratic primary. Instead, he joined Warner’s campaign as finance chairman.
Beyer and his wife served on the Obama campaign’s finance committee, helping to bundle at least $500,000 in donations, according to Beyer was one of Obama’s earliest and most vocal supporters in Virginia. Obama won the state’s Democratic primary, and later became the first Democrat to win Virginia in a presidential contest since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Beyer was also an influential member of Obama’s transition team.
He has served on the boards of First Union National Bank (Virginia board), Shenandoah Life Insurance Company, Lightly Expressed, a fiber optic lighting design and manufacturing firm, Demosphere International, a leading soccer registration software provider, and History Associates.
Beyer has been a member of the Northern Virginia Business Roundtable and the Northern Virginia High Tech Council, which he co-founded. He’s served on the boards of Youth for Tomorrow, the Washington Community Foundation, and the Red Cross.
He and his family attend Christ Church in Alexandria, where Beyer has served as chairman of the outreach subcommittee.
-Noel Brinkerhoff


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