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Noble Calling

Mary Burich | October 31, 2018


Meet Savile, Lord of the SPAM® Museum

As Savile Lord prepared to receive her high-school diploma, she heard the announcer taking in a quick breath in the middle of reading her name.

It’s not that the official at the storied Miss Porter’s didn’t rehearse the part. It’s more that Savile’s moniker is a mouthful, even at the prestigious Connecticut boarding school where the likes of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, Gloria Vanderbilt and the late Dorothy Walker Bush, mother of the 41st U.S. president, were educated.

These days, Savile, who oversees the SPAM® Museum for Hormel Foods, rarely uses her full name: Savile Collins de Montenay FitzAlan de Dinan Lord. Nor does she broadcast her lineage, which can be traced to the Revolutionary War and even before that, to the 1215 signing of the Magna Carta. Savile’s ancestor Baron Foulques FitzWarin was present when King John of England put his signature on the monumental charter, a fact that made a reporter at The Washington Post sit up and take notice recently.

Here Comes the Bride

Forget everything you’ve ever heard about society weddings. Savile planned her big day at the spectacular Bethesda by the Sea Church in Palm Beach in a short eight weeks, capitalizing on “the quietest month of the year at the museum” and an opportunity to have her sisters and niece in attendance. They were already planning a visit from England.

As it is proper to announce one’s wedding after the nuptials, Savile decided she should alert friends, including those in the Washington, D.C., area, where she was born and raised. So, she sent a wedding announcement to the Post.

That’s when she became an accidental celebrity. Amy Argetsinger, a style editor for the newspaper, was fascinated by the juxtaposition of Savile’s pedigree and her job. She tweeted a photo of the announcement on May 3, 2018. The comment, “Wait for it,” was a veiled reference to the announcement’s closing sentence: “Ms. Lord is the Director of the SPAM® Museum in Austin, Minnesota.”

“It blew up from there,” Savile laughs.

The editor’s tweet received in excess of 30,000 likes and was shared by more than 7,000 Twitter followers. Writers for “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!,” the tongue-in-cheek NPR news quiz show, scooped it up in an attempt to bluff one of their listeners, putting it side by side with two other incredible wedding announcements and asking the contestant to guess which one was authentic.

The weekend radio show prompted a lighthearted tweet from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar: “What’s the next stop after Queen Charlotte’s debutante ball in London? The @SPAMMuseumMN! Sunday’s @waitwait told the story of Savile Lord (whose ancestors were at the signing of the Magna Carta!) & who is now the director of the SPAM museum in Austin, MN.”

A deb – Who’s Just Like Us

In her teen years, Savile was presented at six debutante balls in the United States and Europe, a tradition precious few of us will ever experience. Many years ago, the events were used to introduce high-society young ladies to the world; ideally to find suitable mates for them. Today, such balls and cotillions tend to help make connections (instead of marriages), but they are nevertheless reserved for the most elite of the elite.

Despite being in such rarified air, from growing up in the affluent outskirts of Washington, to her elite education, to this succession of balls, Savile was raised never to believe she was better than anyone else. She is quick to give credit where credit is due; that is, to her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Lord gave Savile an appreciation of her background and at the same time, a sense of normalcy. “I learned I can be both at the same time,” she says.

“[They instructed me] never to put on an air of aristocracy. You never come across as someone who is better than anyone else,” she adds.

That’s something for someone who’s walked the halls of some of the best and most prestigious schools in the world, sharing girlhood secrets with kids of the rich and famous. However, schooling wasn’t a status symbol, Savile says. “My parents wanted us to be as educated as possible and through their hard work and perseverance, were able to offer us some fantastic opportunities. Each of my siblings is thankful for that and not at all arrogant about our ancestry or how we were raised.”

Family Ties

Her parents value learning, Savile says. Her father is a retired U.S. Department of Education senior associate who, at 83, continues to write and publish plays. Savile’s mother helped establish guidance counseling at the elementary level throughout the United States. Now 77, she lives in Palm Beach, Fla., where she’s involved in numerous charities, plays the oboe in three orchestras and is a shining example of the progressive women in Savile’s family.

Savile’s family emigrated to the United States from Europe in the 1720s. It’s a dream of her parents to have the family registered with the National Society, Colonial Dames of America, an organization of women descended from those who lived in – and served – America from 1607 through 1775. “It’s the last step in documenting our lineage in the United States,” Savile says. “They want to make sure future generations can see where they’ve come from.”

A SPAM®azing Opportunity

After her graduation from Georgetown University, Savile worked as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, advocating for better health care services for seniors. That, coupled with her education and upbringing, sparked her interest in social issues.

“Fast-forward a decade, and I’m working with entrepreneurs in Albert Lea, Minn., helping them to sustain their businesses after the first year,” she says.

Savile was already employed by Hormel Foods in a sales position when a posting came out for a curator for the SPAM® Museum. Several people reached out, telling her she was a perfect fit. Among other things, the job description called for someone with energy, skill with community relations and a talent for forward thinking.

The museum was a relatively new addition to the Hormel Foods portfolio. It began as a temporary exhibit at the local mall in honor of the food company’s 100th anniversary. “It was never intended to be permanent,” Savile says. “But the idea stuck.”

A new SPAM® Museum eventually was built in Austin, Minn., at the Corporate Office of Hormel Foods. “It was kitschy and fun, and it was designed to draw people in,” she says.

SPAM Museum

The SPAM® Museum in 2016, during the Hormel Foods 125th anniversary celebration.

Today’s SPAM® Museum is better than ever. Located in downtown Austin, it opened in time for the 125th anniversary of Hormel Foods. Since then, it’s welcomed visitors and garnered attention from all over the world as a must-see attraction. It even served as the backdrop for the marriage of a British couple in love with each other – and the famous canned meat.

“Savile’s global view and her public affairs experience have been a positive force,” says Wendy Watkins, vice president of corporate communications, who has ultimate responsibility for the SPAM® Museum. “She’s the perfect person to be our chief ambassador at the museum.”

Savile agrees. Even if tens of thousands of social media followers find the idea of a SPAM®-loving debutante incongruous, she knows she’s right where she was meant to be.

As for her ancestors? If they were here, what would they say about a family member who prefers running the SPAM® Museum to lunching at the club?

“My family has a history of doing things outside of tradition, and I’ve never taken the normal route either, so managing the coolest museum in the world should be no exception,” Savile says.

Amy Argetsinger, the one who unleashed the Twitter storm, understands.

“100 percent! The SPAM® Museum is real, Savile Lord is real, and she is a nice normal person who loves her job.”

As for Savile, she’s taking all of her newly found fame in stride.

“We all have a story, a story that sets us apart from one another, and this is just mine,” she says.