From Everest to Embassies

Sue Cobb, J.D. ’78, recounts her journey ‘from Everest to Embassies’ in new memoir.
From Everest to Embassies

The stories are as diverse as they are entertaining. There’s the time she went head-to-head with the Jamaican prime minister, or when she shot a rattlesnake with her own Winchester .22 single shot rifle at age 10. Or when, fearing they were about to be kidnapped, she jumped out of a moving tuk-tuk with her family in Thailand. There are stories of visits to the White House and travels across the world, of becoming a champion skier and tennis player. And, of course, there’s the moment she stood alone at 25,000 feet on the North Ridge of Mt. Everest as a storm approached.

But what is clear throughout her new memoir, “The Lady of Silk and Steel: From Everest to Embassies,” is that Sue M. Cobb, J.D. ’78, never shied away from a challenge or an opportunity, no matter how far out of her comfort zone it took her. At every new step, she assessed the risks, weighed the pros and cons, made her choices, and committed fully. “That’s what this book is about,” she says, “how to make choices and then dare to try to successfully follow through.”

This zest for adventure has been the key to her richly layered life–both personally and professionally. Coupled with her natural athleticism and fearless but humble personality, it has allowed her to emerge from a family of extremely modest means to become a successful sportswoman, attorney, diplomat, student, wife, and mother. 

Born in 1937, Cobb grew up on a small ranch in Chino, California. She remembers a childhood spent caring for horses, using the 25 cents allowance she earned weekly to go watch Western movies, studying often and well, and playing sports. Her success in high school put her on a path to Stanford University, where her brother was a scholarship student and where she met her husband, Charles E. Cobb.

After graduating with a B.A. in political science, she focused on her husband’s career. She absorbed everything, learning along the way as he became a member of the U.S. Olympic track team, an officer in the Navy, a graduate of the Stanford Business School, and a successful businessman. Eventually, they had two sons and Cobb committed to being a full-time mother. 

It was at the University of Miami that Cobb began her ‘second act’ as a professional woman. At 38, inspired by the then-dean of the School of Law, Soia Mentschikoff, she decided to study law. After graduation, she joined Greenberg Traurig LLP, where she practiced commercial litigation and appellate work before founding the firm’s highly successful Public Finance Department. “The University of Miami started a whole new life for me,” she says.

She simultaneously took up high-altitude mountain climbing. Ten years later, in 1988, she came within 900 meters of becoming the first American woman to summit Mount Everest. “Everest is a metaphor for life,” she says. “There's no straight path up, whether it's a physical mountain or another challenge in your life. You always have to take detours and change your plan if it’s not working and figure out how to take the next path or a new approach.”

Her next turn led her to a career in government service and diplomacy. Her service in Florida included Secretary of the Florida Department of State, CEO of the Florida Lottery, and member of the Miami Federal Reserve. When her husband was appointed U.S. ambassador to Iceland, she moved with him to Reykjavik and managed the spouse’s role at the U.S. Embassy.

She then became the first woman to be appointed as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica, earning the moniker ‘the lady of silk and steel’ for her ability to be both firm and gracious during her successful four-year tenure. At home in Miami, she is now president of the Cobb Family Foundation and sits on a number of non-profit boards.  

Both Cobb and her husband, a 44-year member of the University of Miami Board of Trustees and former Chair, have been generous supporters of the University. Their giving has extended to many areas of the U, including numerous scholarships and enshrinement on two campus landmarks, Cobb Stadium and the Cobb Fountain at Lake Osceola.

She hopes her book can serve as an inspiration and reminder that it’s never too late to take on new adventures. “I hope this book will be of value to men and women divining how far they can move out of their comfort zones, confront new challenges, and fulfill their potential,” she says.