You may think the man who is not only the son of Vogue’s most iconic editor (Diana Vreeland), as well as a member of the CIA, a career diplomat, and prepared JFK for his famous visit to Berlin in 1963 to be a little high on his horse. Freck Vreeland is anything but.
At 94, Vreeland is down-to-earth, humorous, and eager to continue learning and growing. He just started Instagramming! His grounding presence resonates through to his son as well, Nicky Vreeland, a fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk who is the abbot of Rato Dratsang Monastery in India.
Currently living in Rome with his wife, Sandra, he is focusing on writing his memoir but took time to speak to us. When asked what about EVRYMAN resonated with him he told us, “I was brought up by my parents with the idea that people, but particularly men, should not express their emotions, let alone show their vulnerable sides. In ‘good’ society we weren’t even supposed to talk about ourselves at all. In my career, it was necessary, even vital, to hide behind a mask. Both in CIA and the Foreign Service (my cover Diplomatic career), I mostly listened and talked very little. These last few years, I have learned to appreciate how liberating it is to express my feelings, to talk about myself, to be honest, and open about my emotional reactions, and I applaud all the men who have the courage to do the same.”
Right now, what do you want and how do you feel?
I feel great and still travel a lot to see friends and family all over the world. I eat well, sleep well, and do my exercises every day (the so-called Tibetan rites). I practice meditation daily. I keep up with all the news and books that interest me. And I write my memoir; the main thing I want is to be able to keep doing this for as long as I can, physically and mentally. But I also very much want the world to cease fighting, and destroying the planet…
In your own words, who are you?
I am a man who always wants to be useful to others, whenever and however I can. I’m a positive thinker and always try to find interesting or creative solutions to any problems that come my way. I believe I am here in this world to help and contribute and leave this planet a little better than when I arrived.
In retrospect, what did you learn about being a man (or about yourself) from JFK?
He taught me that contributing to others is the greatest contribution you can make to your own pleasure.
From the CIA?
That the only way to influence others is to contribute to their inherent desire to be useful with their lives.
If you were speaking to a younger man, or yourself at a younger age, what would you tell that man?
That the greatest pleasure they can get in their lives is to concentrate on giving pleasure to others.
What has been your biggest gift to the planet that you would have never imagined?
I am very proud to have introduced solar energy in Morocco and to some extent at least, in Italy. In Morocco alone, not only did I arrange for electricity to be installed in the houses of 70,000 people in the mountains south of Marrakesh, but this led to Morocco becoming one of the countries most advanced in alternative energy today.
Where do you find joy in your life?
With my wife Sandra, sitting in the sun on our glorious terrace in Rome having a cup of tea, or a glass of wine. Staying in touch with and spending time with my friends and family. Discovering new places, especially archeological sites, and museums. Reading wonderful books.
What has been your biggest challenge?
To get over the divorce of my first wife and to deal with the grave illness of my second wife. In my career, it has been not to compromise or to hurt anybody during my CIA undercover work.
What has been your peak experience?
Three things come to mind:
1. The pride I felt when I heard JFK’s Berlin speech in 1963, and his pronunciation of the phrase ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’, which I had invented and taught him to pronounce.
2. The emotional moment when, while standing on the White House lawn with President George H. W. Bush and King Hassan II of Morocco, I received a telegram telling me that the terrible prison camp Tazmamart in the south of Morocco had been closed, thanks to my intervention (or, more accurately, my blackmail of Hassan II).
3. The fact that I was responsible for moving the Rome campus of my beloved John Cabot University (of which I have been a proud Board Member for more than 35 years), to the very center of Trastevere (inside the walls of Rome and incidentally, right next door to my apartment). I did it at first for selfish reasons, so it was close to me, but it has completely changed the destiny and atmosphere of the University, which has grown from 150 to over 1400 students.
What is your biggest fear?
I am not fearful of death, but I don’t like pain and would hate to suffer and be a burden on my wife and children. And of course, Global Warming and how badly we are treating the planet is deeply frightening to me.
If you really knew me you would know that…
I rarely follow rules and am not at all artistic or romantic and quite spoiled. Also, I often don’t remember or recognize people (especially these last few years), but my diplomatic training has taught me to always pretend they are my best friends…and lastly, I love eating with my fingers, a habit I picked up in Morocco.