Book review: 'When the White House Calls' tells Utahn John Price's journey to becoming a U.S. ambassador

By Steve Larson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Sept. 3 2011 2:00 p.m. MDT

"WHEN THE WHITE HOUSE CALLS: From Immigrant Entrepreneur to U.S. Ambassador," by John Price, University of Utah, $30, 690 pages (nf)

“When the White House Calls” tells the story of German immigrant and Utah resident John Price, a successful Utah businessman, who received a call from the White House in March 2001 asking him to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Mauritius, the Republic of Seychelles, and the Union of the Comoros, three island nations off the east coast of Africa.

This autobiographical account begins with Price’s acceptance of the call and the build up to his swearing in ceremony at the Utah State Capitol just prior to the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. From there Price tells the story of his families’ immigration to the United States in 1940.

Born in Germany in 1933, Price was just 5 years old when Jews throughout Germany experienced Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass. Price and his family hid upstairs above their shop while gangs of Nazi youth and storm troopers smashed windows and destroyed Jewish-owned businesses and set fire to nearly 200 synagogues. Price remembers his father covering their heads and praying in Hebrew.

Shortly after this Nazi uprising, Price’s father was able to sell everything he had in exchange for exit documents allowing his family to leave Germany. The Price family left Germany in April 1939 just before the German government sealed its borders and stopped allowing Jews to leave. The family initially landed in Panama, but later immigrated to the U.S. with the help of family members.

From this point on, Price lived the life of a typical German immigrant. He worked a number of odd jobs, went to public school, and even joined the Boy Scouts and earned 21 merit badges. It was during his years as a Boy Scout he developed his love for the outdoors.

After initially wanting to be a mechanical or electrical engineer, Price changed his mind after taking a geology course. His decision to study the field of geology would later take him west in search of jobs in the oil industry. This would also lead to his enrollment at the University of Utah and his decision to remain in Utah to build his many businesses. Price describes falling in love with “the beauty of the snow-capped Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges and the high desert valley that nestled in between.”

In 1956, Price graduated from the University of Utah and in 1957 he started his first business, J. Price Construction Co. He would later go on to become president of Salt Lake Hardware and establish John Price Realty.

During his time as a U.S. Ambassador, Price worked hard to bring attention to the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It is his view that the United States cannot give up on the nation's long-established democratic principles and tenets of freedom. Price believes it is in the best interest of the United States to have a presence in every country.

"When the White House Calls" gives unique insight into the world of Utah business and politics. Readers should enjoy Price’s description of early Utah business deals and the rise of Utah as a political power. In particular, his behind the scenes look at President George W. Bush’s visit to Utah for the 2002 Winter Olympic opening ceremonies should stir the emotions of those who experienced firsthand the state’s time in the spotlight.

It is also full of details about sub-Saharan Africa and is well worth reading.

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