National Parliamentary Library of Georgia


Department of Anthropology

The Chavchavadze Family Crest language image Georgian Version English Version

David Chavchavadze (1924- )

Carole Neves, Director of Policy and Analysis, the Smithsonian Institution, described David Chavchavadze the following way:

When one meets David Chavchavadze, one immediately senses there is something extraordinary about this man. It is conveyed through the care with which he expresses his thoughts, his pervasive willingness to find a middle ground on difficult subjects, and the self confidence that reflects an upbringing in a prominent family. But above all, it is present in his warmth, graciousness, charm, and gentlemanly bearing. For those with an interest in the role his family has played in the history of Georgia and its region, David Chavchavadze is a living treasure, and a man whose own story is no less intriguing than those of his famous ancestors.

The Office of Policy and Analysis conducted an interview with David Chavchavadze that can be found at the end of the article here.

Family Background
David Chavchavadze’s family genealogical tree is filled with nobles. On his mother’s side, he belongs to the Russian Romanov family. His mother, Princess Nina, was a descendant of Tsar Nikolas I and Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia, as well as of Christian IX of Denmark and George I of Greece. His father, Paul Chavchavadze, was descended from the Chavchavadze family of the Kakheti province in Georgia, and also, in a direct line, from the last King of Georgia, George XII.

David’s grandmother Maria Rodzianko and grandfather Alexander Chavchavadze met in Kislovodsk in the Caucasus and married in 1896 after a swift courtship. The couple lived in Russia, where they had three children—Paul, George, and Marina. When they divorced in 1917, Alexander returned to Georgia. After the Red Army marched into Georgia in 1921, he was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks for the next ten years:

During this period, when his former wife and children were already in England, a message was somehow received that [they could buy Alexander’s way out of prison]. The price was 100 pounds sterling—at least $10,000 in today’s money. The family could not come up with this money until [Alexander’s daughter] Marina, at a posh ball in London, related the story to her dinner partner. This gentleman immediately fished 100 pounds out of his wallet and gave it to her. She danced the rest of the evening clutching the money—her father’s life—in her hand.
Alexander with his sister Sophio and children, Paul, George, and Marina
Alexander with his siter Sophio and children, Paul, George, and Marina

Unfortunately, the bribe did not work. Alexander was released briefly, but then imprisoned again. In 1931, he was executed by the Bolsheviks.

David’s father Paul Chavchavadze, one of Alexander and Maria’s children, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1899. In early childhood, he had a chance to travel to the Tsinandali, where his father’s ancestors had once entertained some of the leading lights of art, literature, and politics at their lovely estate. When he was 18, he visited Tsinandali for a second and last time. On this occasion, Paul spent several months with his father Alexander. This was to be the last time Paul would see his father, who was soon to fall victim to the Bolshevik takeover of Georgia.

Paul first met David’s mother Nina when he was nine and she was seven, at a party at the British embassy in Rome in 1908. A member of the Russian Romanov family, Princess Nina had the right, as royalty, to choose her partner, and she selected Paul. When they next met, it was in London many years later. By the time they were married on September 3, 1922 in London, the world they knew had changed radically, with the collapse of the feudal system in Russia, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and annexation of Georgia by the Soviet Union. Most of their aristocratic riches were lost in the revolution, but they never complained about their material losses. Paul served in the military service on two continents which adds to the fact that five generations of Chavchavadze males, starting with Alexandre, served in wars.

David Chavchavadze in 1938
David Chavchavadze in 1938

Early Years
David Chavchavadze was born on 1924 in London. When he was a year old, he got a new nanny, Vera Alexandrovna Nagovsky, a Russian in her mid-30s who had managed to escape from the chaos of revolutionary Russia to England in 1919. She stayed with the family for thirteen years, during which she, rather than David’s somewhat distant parents, was primarily responsible for his upbringing. Under her tutelage, David learned to speak fluent Russian and to take pride in his Russian heritage. Through her tales of her own life and family, he also became acquainted with a rural Russia far removed from the aristocratic circles in which his parents had moved.

In 1927, David’s family moved to the United States, where they settled in New York. Paul worked as an author; he wrote five books and translated several books including Svetlana Alliluyeua's second book, Only One Year. In 1942, with World War II in full force, David enrolled at Yale University, and also signed up for the enlisted reserve of the U.S. Army. He was called up for active duty in 1943, shortly after completing his freshman year at Yale. However, he was not destined to serve on the front lines of the advancing U.S. forces in Europe or the Pacific; an IBM computing machine at the newly-built Pentagon had happened to notice that David spoke Russian, and he was told to report to Camp Ritchie, Maryland, for induction into a military intelligence unit:

This machine may have saved my life! When my order came through, I became a general object of envy. "You’ll be wearing Class A’s the whole time," they said. Ha! It would have done them good to see me a few days later on [kitchen detail,] in greasy fatigues for a whole week.

David was first assigned to a unit for linguists where everyone else had a doctorate, and later was moved to a Russian section. After training, he was taken into the hills for a practical examination, complete with simulated German infantry, artillery, and tanks. During the exercise, the soldiers were assailed with tear gas, and he was one of the few who were smart enough to put on their gas masks. Such displays of intelligence and initiative quickly got him promoted to staff sergeant.

In October, 1943, David was sent to Alaska for work that required Russian language skills. However, an officer was needed for his position, and the following spring, he was scheduled to be rotated out of Alaska and replaced by one Kyrill F. de Shishmareff, a second lieutenant. However, when Shishmareff arrived, it was quickly discovered—to everyone’s surprise—that he did not know Russian. This had interesting consequences for David:

Here was the solution: if Shishmareff were to leave, another few months would pass before we received a replacement, and there was no guarantee [the replacement] would be able to speak Russian either. An officer was desperately needed. If I were to be commissioned, already completely familiar with the job, everybody would gain.

Thus it was that on July 24, 1944, David was promoted to a second lieutenant in the United States Army at the age of 20. Less than a year later, he was promoted to first lieutenant.

During World War II, David worked as an interpreter and met many prominent Russians, including Andrei Gromyko, who was later to become Soviet Foreign Minister. After the war, David continued to serve as an interpreter at meetings where the future of Germany and the architecture of the post-war international system were debated among representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France. While serving in this capacity, David lived for a time in Europe, mostly in Germany, where he continued to meet powerful Soviet politicians and diplomats. In 1950, a new stage in his life began:

At the end of August the telegram came. "Please report to Washington on September 5, 1950." ... My twenty-five years in the CIA were about to start, and I would be the only Romanov relative actively working against the Bolshevik regime.

In his 1990 memoir Crowns and Trenchcoats: A Russian Prince in the CIA, David discusses his work in the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), the organization created under President Harry S. Truman in 1947 to meet the intelligence challenges of a post-war world marked by growing geopolitical rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. David got into the agency on the ground floor, so to speak—at the time he was hired, the CIA did not even have a permanent headquarters—and quickly established himself as a valuable asset to the U.S. intelligence community. Much of his work at the Agency involved surveillance and clandestine communications in the Soviet Operations division.

In 1967, Svetlana Dzhugashvili—daughter of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), and a woman as kind as her father was brutal—defected to the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. After taking up residence in the United States she and David Chavchavadze became friends, perhaps drawn together by their shared longing for a homeland to which they could not return. On one occasion, she even asked to David—an accomplished singer with an interest in pre-Revolutionary and Soviet Russian songs—to sing with her to the accompaniment of a guitar:

But no Soviet songs please! She made me go on and on, almost exhausting my considerable repertoire in all the pre-revolutionary genres. Then she kissed my hand. ... No woman had ever kissed my hand before, let alone Stalin’s daughter. From some of the things she said that night, I felt that this was ... apologizing for what her father and the others had done to us, and to Russia.

Later Years
In 1974, at the age of 50, David decided to retire from the CIA. But such was his value to the Agency that he was able to continue to work for it on his own terms, as a contractor:

That meant that I could still be useful, paid by the day when actually employed, but free to accept or to turn down any assignments. Perfect!
David Chavchavadze with his first wife Helen and daughter Maria
David Chavchavadze with his first wife Helen and daughter Maria

He found many other ways to keep himself active after he left full-time work at the CIA. In addition to dabbling in professional singing, he wrote several books on history and politics (including The Grand Dukes, The Vlasov Movement: Soviet Citizens Who Served on the German Side—1941-1945, and the aforementioned Crowns and Trenchcoats); taught courses on the Soviet system at George Washington University in Washington DC and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia; conducted country surveys of terrorism potential for a private company; and translated several Russian works into English.

David married three times. He met his first wife, Helen Husted, in 1951, and they married in 1952. She went on to learn almost perfect Russian and to write a dissertation on Georgian phonemes. With her, David had two children: Maria (born August 28, 1953) and Alexandra (born December 24, 1954). His second wife was Judith Clippinger, who David met in 1957 and married in 1960. For many years Judith worked with refugees, including for the U.S. Department of State. David had two children with her as well: Catherine (born December 29, 1960) and Michael (born August 1, 1966). Eugenie de Smitt became David’s third wife in 1979, and they continue to reside together in Washington DC today.

In 1977, on his second trip to the Soviet Union, David finally got the opportunity to visit his father’s ancestral estate at Tsinandali, along with his daughter Maria. He recalls the warm welcome he received when he arrived in Tbilisi:

The thrill of being in a place where my name was not an unpronounceable jumble of letters, but known and even adulated was wonderful. ... The fabled Georgian hospitality, which I knew from tradition, was still totally operative. All I had to say, in the few Georgian words I knew, was that I was a Georgian from the United States ... and I was immediately asked my name. The effect was magical. Taxi drivers who had been griping about their low incomes refused to take a kopek from me, restaurants refused to charge us. ... [T]wice my hand was kissed by women who learned that Alexander Chavchavadze was my ancestor.

He recalls his trip to the Tsinandali estate in the following words:

As we drove through the grape-growing valley of Kakhetia, I looked at the mountain range to the north and thought how full of menace it must have seemed in 1854 [when Shamil’s forces attacked Tsinandali]. ... Had I really lived to see this day? ... After a two-hour drive, we entered a driveway decorated with many flowers. The house had two stories but was not very large. It had a porch on two sides, with trellises built in rather oriental looking arches. ... There was no doubt that we were in Tsinandali.

David was very touched by his visit to Tsinandali, where so much of his illustrious family’s history had unfolded, and he recalls that this day was one of the most memorable of his life. He had wanted to spend a night at Tsinandali. This was not permitted, but he was granted a more modest wish:

I was allowed to sit at Alexander’s desk, roped off from visitors. A great honor, they said. ... There was a large portrait of Garsevan ... and the family tree of the Chavchavadzes, ending with my father. The biggest surprise was a photograph of my father and copies of two of his books, and then I remembered my father telling me that he had received a letter in Georgian from the Chairman of the State Farm of Tsinandali, asking for family pictures. He had not sent mine, thinking that this was a KGB trick to get it. The letter had ended with, "We all hope you will someday visit your Tsinandali." ... If there had been no revolution, my father would have inherited Tsinandali from his childless uncle, Maximilian, who had bought it back from the crown with his rich Moscow wife’s money.

Continuing a family tradition, David's eldest child, Marusya, is the executive director of the American Friends of Georgia (AFG), an organization that provides humanitarian assistance to the children and families of the nation of Georgia. Medical care, education, sanctuary and rehabilitation are provided to orphans, homeless, single mothers, and impoverished elderly. When Marusya was asked about her participation in the AFG, she noted that she is continuing in the Chavchavadze tradition of providing assistance to those less fortunate. To learn more about AFG, go to

placeholder for video
This is a placeholder for the video

Source bibliography:

  1. Chavchavadze, David. Crowns and Trenchcoats: A Russian prince in the CIA. New York: Atlantic International Publications, 1990.
  2. Neves, Carole. Meetings with David Chavchavadze and his wife, Eugenie, Washington DC: 2007 and 2008.
  3. Pipia, Irakli. Interview with Chavchavadze, David Paul. Video and recording. Washington DC:  April 29, 2008.

[ TOP ]