Gordon Sondland, Donald Trump’s ambassador to the EU, is a hotelier from the west coast who is the son of parents who escaped the Nazis. He has two children and is married to Katherine Durant, who runs an investment company and with whom he’s been described as a “power couple.”
Sondland is a long-time Republican donor, businessman, and philanthropist (who has at times donated to Democrats) and who has ties to the campaigns of George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney. He’s been mixed on Trump over the years, but he did give the president’s inaugural committee $1 million through various companies, and he’s now found himself in the midst of the impeachment inquiry.
Sondland attorney, Robert Luskin, told CBS News, “Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the Committee’s questions fully and truthfully.”
A video biography created when Sondland became ambassador highlighted his wife and kids:
Here’s what you need to know about Sondland’s Family:
1. Sondland’s Parents Escaped & Fought the Nazis
Sondland is the child of immigrant parents who fled Nazi Germany, according to Politico.
Oregon Live reported that Sondland’s parents left Gdansk, now Poland, and his father fought the Nazis in the French Foreign Legion and British Army. The family eventually settled in Uruguay and then Seattle, Washington.
In a video biography put out when he was named ambassador, Sondland said he was born and raised in Seattle, but he was the “first in my family who were born in the U.S.”
“My mother was able to get out of Nazi Germany because her father was Russian, and those with a Russian passport could leave,” Sondland said, according to Fox News. “My father was not so fortunate and he had to be smuggled out of Germany by being tied to the bow of a vegetable freighter that was leaving for the North Sea. He almost lost one leg because it was so cold and he wound up in France.” His father later fought the Nazis in North Africa.
Sondland spoke about his family origins and the Holocaust to Portland Business Review. You can listen to that audio interview here. In it, he explained that his parents married at age 15 and were teenage sweethearts who “left Nazi Germany in a very precarious way.”
He gave a lengthy tribute to his parents at his nomination hearing, saying, “Theirs was a story of intense personal sacrifice, unshakeable spirit and faith, hard work, good luck, and a deep commitment…devoted in equal parts to the United States and to each other. Having met and married in Berlin in 1938, Gunther and Frieda, and my sister Lucy, unlike so many of their less fortunate relatives were able to flee the scourge of Nazism.”
In 1939, Frieda and Lucy found safe haven in South America, while Gunther promptly volunteered to take up arms against the murderous, authoritarian regime from which they’d just escaped. First, with the French Foreign Legion in Africa, and later with the British Army in Burma. World War II came to a close, and two years later so too did Gunther and Frieda’s eight-year separation, when they were reunited in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1947. Along with tens of thousands of other Jews, Gunther’s surviving family had sought shelter in Shanghai. Soon, they and Gunther, Frieda, and my sister Lucy found fortunate, permanent refuge in Seattle, Washington, on the Northwestern edge of our great country. Here, they raised their two children, including me, the first of my family ever to claim natural-born citizenship in the United States. Here, they embarked on their own unique American dream, as proud American citizens, eventually starting and running a small successful dry-cleaning business for the next thirty years. Here, they labored, loved, made many friends andhad a positive impact on their community. Here, they never ceased being grateful to the country that had given them hope, safety, and a new beginning. Gunther and Frieda fought hard for their American citizenship. They cherished it. They nurtured it. And, they marinated me and my sister Lucy in it. They bequeathed to us neither riches nor property, but something much more treasured: an abiding respect for industry, determination, and self-sufficiency; a deep love of God, family, and country – this country in particular; faith in the rule of law; and, finally, the certainty that self-governance is essential to happiness, prosperity and true liberty.
2. Sondland Cited His Parents’ Experiences When He Briefly Split With Trump
Sondland has gone back and forth on Trump over the years, and he’s regarded as more of an establishment Republican who is a fan of the free market and Ayn Rand.
Sondland spoke about Trump to a Politico podcast in which he also advocated for the free market. “He’s a hell of a lot of fun,” Sondland said, of Trump, indicating that he thinks Europeans have been too hard on the president. “I think they would enjoy his company.”
However, according to Oregon Live, after initially supporting Trump during his run for president once Trump was the Republican nominee, Sondland and his wife broke with Trump when he criticized Gold Star Father Khizr Khan. “Trump’s constantly evolving positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels,” their spokesperson said, according to Oregon Live.
At that time, a spokesperson for Sondland cited his parents’ experiences, saying they were persecuted for their faith.
The spokesperson also said, according to Willamette Week: “Mr. Sondland is a first generation American whose parents were forced to flee Germany during the years leading up to World War II because they were persecuted for their faith…Historically, Mr. Sondland has been supportive of the Republican party’s nominees for President. However, in light of Mr. Trump’s treatment of the Khan family and the fact his constantly evolving positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels, neither Mr. Sondland or Mr. Wali can support his candidacy.”
Sondland, chairman of Provenance Hotels and based in Oregon and Washington, later changed his mind and became a major donor to Trump’s inaugural committee.
3. Sondland Runs a Major Charitable Foundation With His Wife, Katy Durant
Sondland and his wife run the Sondland Durant Foundation. Its website says “The Gordon D. Sondland and Katherine J. Durant Foundation was founded in 1999 by Gordon Sondland & Katherine Durant. The organizations supported by the Foundation include the Portland Art Museum, OMSI, OHSU, New Avenues for Youth, Oregon Ballet Theatre, the Portland Parks Foundation.”
The foundation’s mission is described as “Helping Families & Boosting Communities.” Sondland’s wife, who is also called Katy, “holds a Bachelor of Science in Business form Pepperdine University as well as an MBA in Finance from Willamette University,” according to the foundation’s website. Max and Lucy Sondland are also listed on the website. They are both college students.
In 2018, in his statement after being nominated as ambassador, Sondland said of his wife, “She’s a formidable success in business, as well as in our home, and she’s been an enduring source of strength – and humbling, smart advice – since the day I was fortunate to meet her nearly 30 years ago.”
The foundation website lists these boards for Durant: Pratt School of Engineering Board of Visitors at Duke University; Portland Art Museum Board of Directors and Executive Committee, Chair of the Investment Committee; Jesuit High School Board of Trustees; Elevate Oregon Board of Directors.
Sondland’s website lists him as serving on the following boards: Sanford School Board of Visitors at Duke University; Oregon Health & Science University Foundation; U.S. Bancorp Washington State Advisory Board; National Finance Co-Chairman; George W. Bush Center.
Sondland’s wife is also involved in real estate investment.
4. Sondland’s Wife Says He Wasn’t Her Type When They First Met
Both Sondlands described to Oregon Business how they met. “I flew to Portland to look at a building Katy was marketing. My friend and mentor Howard S. Wright counseled me against the investment but advised me to ‘keep in touch with that broker; she is really pretty and smart,’” Sondland said.
Katy added, “He really wasn’t my type. I was focused on showing him and Mr. Wright the building I hoped they would buy. I was not successful in that endeavor, but I sold it to someone else. Today we say it was the best deal we’ve ever done that didn’t go through.” She told the site she insisted on keeping her name and staying in Portland.
They have gone on to amass a $60 million fortune and a major art collection.
“I’m also a lover of art. Katy and I have assembled a wonderful collection. We’ve been fortunate even to loan a couple of paintings to the White House,” Sondland said in the video biography, which shows off a couple of the family’s paintings. According to Mother Jones, Sondland’s art collection is worth about $25 million.
5. Sondland Has Two Children & Gave Millions to His Son’s University
Max and Lucy Sondland, the couple’s children, are also listed on the foundation’s website. They are both college students. Willamette Week reports that Max attends Duke University; his parents gave the college $2.5 million.
“Sitting next to Katy are our two proudest accomplishments, our children Max and Lucy, both of whom are undergraduates at Duke, and both of whom departed challenging summer internships so they could be here by my side,” Sondland said in 2018 at his nomination hearing. “I’m delighted they could be here today.”
A video biography introducing Sondland by the U.S. Mission to the EU shows the new ambassador sitting in his home with his wife, making coffee, and sitting next to his dog. He said he had been married for 25 years to Katy Durant and introduced his two children.
“My family is the most important thing to me,” said Sondland.
READ NEXT: Gordon Sondland’s Net Worth.