Well-travelledPublished on March 8, 2020

Photo by: Mark Holleron

Debra Jean Pehringer, wife of the Austrian Ambassador to Canada, Dr. Stefan Pehringer, is a perfectionist and planner whose academic studies focussed on languages, social sciences and the law. From an early age, she had a wanderlust that over the years has led her to 64 countries.

During her travels, she met extraordinary people who became friends and extended family; she claims many adventures along the way. These include meeting Jack Nicholson when attending New York University and living in the 5th Avenue building where As Good as It Gets was being filmed, as well as being a beauty pageant winner and more.

While interning at the United Nations and attending NYU for international legal studies, Debra Jean walked into the law firm Baker McKenzie with no appointment and walked out with her first job as a lawyer, based in Thailand. In Bangkok she was kidnapped by a tour guide and then escaped from an engagement party, which turned out to be for her.

Debra Jean serendipitously met her husband in Vienna in 2007 and her engagement was approved by her Hollywood “Mother” Jackie Stallone. She was fortunate to have met her soulmate who understands her love of travel and exploration. During his diplomatic posting in Canada they have visited Alberta, Quebec and British Columbia, and would still like to see the polar bears in Churchill.

Casa Loma, their heritage home in Rockcliffe Park (built in 1911 for Harry Southam and designed by Allan Keefer), is ideal for hosting events to showcase Austrian customs and specialities. Debra Jean appreciates the privilege of living in Ottawa and finds Canadians very welcoming. She knows new adventures await on future postings, and looks forward to continuing her journey of being a well-travelled citizen of the world.

What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be an Ambassador, an emissary—a representative of the United States. Being from a small town, I noticed that many people never left. I wanted to leave, to explore, learn more and I took every opportunity I could.

I graduated early from high school, completed a double major at NYU, studied abroad one semester and had a summer abroad. I graduated NYU Law School with a Masters of Law in International Legal Studies and also got my Masters in International Affairs. Education came first, but I knew that travel was always going to be an important element in my career and personal growth.

You entered beauty pageants, why? University was expensive, so I did it for scholarship money and representing the State of Connecticut. I thought it would help improve my interview skills and build my confidence. It was difficult in the beginning, but it got me far. I still remember how reporters from The New York Times followed me around at NYU Law School asking for interviews when I was crowned Miss United States.

How did you meet your husband? We met on September 6, 2007 as seatmates at the Vienna State Opera on the day Pavarotti died. Stefan was in Foreign Affairs of the Austrian Ministry. We stayed in touch over the next six years through emails and telephone calls and reconnected when he was the Ambassador to Latvia in 2013. Our picture-perfect wedding was planned entirely by Stefan in 2015 and held on a mountaintop in a pink Gothic church of the Benedictine Monastery Gottweig Abbey, near Krems in Lower Austria.

What is it like to be the spouse of an Ambassador? I am true to who I am and socialize easily with everyone, no matter how influential. Stefan says I have this great ability to talk to people and leave a lasting impression. My husband is conservative and we complement each other and have a clear division of tasks. For most diplomatic wives, being a spouse can be your only job. I am fortunate that I am able to continue working from home for a California law firm where I specialize in international resort development.

What are your future plans? Stefan’s term concludes here in January, 2021 and there are many embassies to which he can apply. Ottawa is starting to feel like home, but Stefan reminded me that diplomatic posts are only four years because you can become part of the local culture and start to settle in if you stay too long.

I am currently finishing the final chapters of my book trilogy memoir. The next step is to write my book proposal, find an agent and have it published. It will highlight my education, employment and the excitement and dangers of my international travel. I want to share my uplifting stories as an explorer and adventurer.

Vera Cody

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