Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Marquita Maytag: The Shrew of Kathmandu


Nepal is a small mountainous country in South Asia, bordered by India and the Tibetan autonomous region of China, which has had friendly relations with the U.S. ever since they were established in 1945. However, at one time these relations were nearly threatened by the actions of “an absolute shrew” of an ambassador. Marquita Maytag was a political appointee who held the position for only a short period of time, May 1976 – April 1977, but she quickly garnered a bad reputation. David Fischer, at that time a Political Officer in the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, recalls some of her more outrageous antics in an interview with Robert Pasturino on May 20, 1998.

You can read Fischer’s account of the mob when he was Ambassador to the Seychelles and this Moment on another bad ambassador and one who managed to get himself on Nicaraguan currency. Go here for other Moments on Diplomats Behaving Badly.

 

 

“All I could find was that she was there with two airline pilots and three Tibetan whores” 

movie projectorFISCHER: First of all I want to tell you about our Ambassador. She was a rather infamous ambassador, considered by many to rank at the top of a short list of very strange political appointees. Her name was Marquita Maytag. I had first met her at the coronation of King Birendra in 1975 when she was a low-ranking member of the official U.S. delegation appointed by President Ford. I subsequently found out that she was a strong Republican powerhouse from Idaho who had thrown the Idaho delegation from Reagan to Ford at the 1976 Republican convention. For this she received her “just” reward:  Ambassador in Nepal.

I really can’t describe some of the events that took place in her short reign in a “family” oral history. Suffice is to say she was a mid-50s oversexed divorcee who figured anyone in town was fair game. Her targets ranged from Marine guards to Nepali airline pilots and within six weeks of her arrival our fellow diplomats were sniggering behind their backs at every diplomatic cocktail party.

One night, all of us in the Embassy had movie projectors, and one of the ways which we entertained, because there were no movie theaters in Kathmandu, was to show modern American movies. We could get any political leader in the country to come out to our houses to see an American movie.

It was a Friday night, and I was sitting at home at eight o’clock and the doorbell rang. There on my doorstep was the Prime Minister of Nepal. He said, “Mr. Fischer, are you showing a movie tonight?”

I said, “No, I’m not, Why do you ask?”

He said, “I thought I was invited to a movie tonight, and I thought it was at the Ambassador’s residence but I went down there and all I could find was that she was there with two airline pilots and three Tibetan whores. I counted around, and I realized there was one more woman than a man and I was going to have to end up with her. So I was hoping you were showing a movie tonight.”

“Keep those tips up”

Nepal King elephantAnd the second story about her. The King of Nepal as I described is an incarnate God, and the young son-God King made his first trip abroad as King. He was going to fly from Kathmandu directly to Beijing, over the Himalayas. It was a Sunday because Sunday had been chosen as the most auspicious day by the court astrologers for him to fly. This was a big deal.

I remember the flight was to be at eleven o’clock in the morning. Well, at about 10:10 a.m., I was at home, and got a call from the Chief of Protocol who was at the airport. He asked if I could come to the airport as quickly as possible to “resolve a small problem.”

So I arrived at the airport just as the King was entering the airport complex on an elephant which was covered with a gold throne. It was extraordinary.

The diplomatic corps were lined up in morning coat, mind you, this was a very formal occasion, and I suddenly realized that the American Ambassador was “missing in action.”

So I ran to the Chief of Protocol to ask what was wrong. He said, “Oh, my God, I’ve locked her up in the VIP lounge. You go in and deal with her.”

I walked in, and there was the American Ambassador — she was not an unattractive, fifty-five or fifty-six-year old, but gravity had taken its toll. She was in a pair of blue jeans, and a t-shirt with no brassiere and across the t-shirt was emblazoned this slogan: “Keep [those] tips up.” She had on a pair of Chinese flip-flops. She was livid. She blamed it immediately on me or the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] or whoever because we hadn’t told her, although she had instructions as to what to do.

This was typical of this woman. She was an absolute shrew….

[The DCM and I] were all in the same boat together. The poor DCM was in a very difficult situation. He was about to get fired if he did anything, so he shared the burden around the embassy as best he could. The administrative officer had proof positive that she had been charging things illegally to her ORE [official residence expenses] accounts but decided discretion was the better part of valor. No, she was really a piece of work.

[She didn’t affect U.S.-Nepal relations in any way], because the Nepalese rapidly realized that she was crazy….Marquita led a woman’s strike in front of the palace for women’s rights. It took us an hour to find about it before we could get the Marines down there to pick her up and throw her in the back of a car.

But those things were not kindly seen but as soon as the palace spent five minutes with her, they realized that this woman was nuts!….

“He gave me orders to have her evicted from the Residence”

Her final denouement came with the election of President Carter in 1976. She refused to provide the usual letter of resignation required of all ambassadors and did whatever she could to stay on, despite the change in political control of the White House. She wrote an infamous telegram on January 18th or so two days before the inauguration in which, among other things, she proposed that the United States erect a six-foot fence around Nepal to preserve it as an international people reserve. She also pleaded in the most dramatic terms that she be reappointed Ambassador.

[Incoming Secretary of State] Cy Vance and [Special Assistant to the Secretary] Peter Tarnoff were sitting in the office on a Sunday afternoon going through by accident the list of political appointees overseas, as to who was going to get canned and when. Nepal, needless to say, was way down the list of changing ambassadors in key posts like London and Paris.

Peter got a call from the Operations Center in the State Department which said, “We’ve got a cable down here you have to read.” Well, the telegram came up, and he showed it to Vance, who said, “Who is this person? Move them to the top of the list.”

So Marquita Maytag became the first political appointee in the Carter administration to be fired. And that afternoon the telegram went out saying, “Your resignation is accepted. Get out of Nepal. You have thirty days to leave.”

Well, 29 days went by, 30 days, 32, and the Ambassador refused to leave. Her argument was that having resigned as Ambassador, she had the right to “house sit” the Residence until such time as a new Ambassador arrived. We pointed out to her there was a violation of the law.

She said that was crazy. “When everyone else goes on home leave or you leave the country, we always have Embassy people staying in houses and as long as this house is unoccupied I intend to stay there” and there she sat for six weeks.

In the meantime, we were sending telegrams to the Department explaining the situation. Art Wortzel was the head of Personnel and asked me to come to New Delhi to meet with him. To make a long story short, he gave me orders to have her evicted from the Residence by the following Friday and, if necessary, to use the Marine Guards to effect the eviction.

Hotel Yellow PagodaThe Chargé [d’affaires], the DCM, was a good friend of mine, Jack Eaves, and I said Jack these are the instructions. Jack, who had suffered under this woman more than anybody else, said, “That’s it. We send in the Marines.”

She refused to answer the telephone or answer the door at the Residence, so Jack sent a junior officer over with a note that said, “You have until 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning or we’re coming to move you out of the residence.”

So the Marine Guards arrived with two trucks on Friday morning, 9:00 a.m., and the locks had been changed, so they broke the door down — literally. It was full-scale military operation. There was the Ambassador sitting in the living room on the sofa, again in her usual outfit of t-shirt, no bra and blue jeans and they moved her lock, stock and barrel. They gave her two or three hours to pack a suitcase.

Then they put her in a truck with her personal belongings and put her in a hotel called the Yellow Pagoda Hotel, I’ll never forget that.

“It was at the time a living hell”

She [had parties], but none of us were invited, and God knows what she did other than pass around marijuana and cookies.

That was Marquita Maytag. I can tell stories for hours and hours and hours about this woman. I guess I should do two versions of this oral history:  an expurgated one and an X-rated one. Really, most of the stories I have about her reign would make a hardened Marine Corps drill sergeant blush. It was at the time a living hell.

She stayed on in Nepal for almost two years, living out of the tourist hotel. I guess she finally rented an apartment somewhere. But the poor Nepalese government didn’t know what to do with her. When she left, she took out an incredible collection of Nepali art and artifacts illegally, but the Nepalese government wasn’t about to stop her.

She was, without a doubt, the worst ambassador I have ever heard of, much less experienced. Thank God Nepal was not a country of vital importance to the United States.

 

 

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  • Chris

    From Bill Harrop:

    This posting, “This Woman was nuts!” is disjointed and so wild I imagine its authenticity will be questioned. Did David Fischer have an absolutely bizarre career in Seychelles and Nepal or could it be the way he recounts these adventures? His own role in some of the stories seems peculiar. I knew him as a competent FSO but his own role in some of the stories seems unusual.

    Maybe this merits some caution. I was accredited to Seychelles (but located in in Nairobi) from 1980 until (I thought, perhaps mistakenly –State Dept records are unclear about the dates) September 1983 with a resident Charge and office in Victoria, visiting the place every three or four months. This was a dysfunctional set-up; I lobbied to have a resident ambassador named in my place, and succeeded.Then David was the first on-site ambassador. I don’t remember hearing these sensational tales before, some apparently taking place while I was the ambassador in far away Nairobi. Perhaps he went there as DCM/Charge while I was still officially ambassador then was later elevated, I don’t remember.

    The whole tone of the account raises worrisome unresolved questions about the State Department and CIA—perhaps justified, but certainly controversial and disturbing.

  • Alan Eastham

    I was going to write a post saying that David had overreached himself about Mrs. Maytag in this interview, but thinking about the time we shared in Kathmandu with Ambassador Maytag — from her arrival to her departure — I can’t really fault him. He describes her “interpersonal relationships” in a way that accords with her reputation in Kathmandu, in particular with the Marine Guards who were my age cohort at the time, but I did not see any of that with my own eyes. I do not recall some of the details, i.e. the marijuana cookies, the forcible eviction he describes, and the airport incident. I do remember that she sent a cable which was the proximate cause of her rapid replacement at the advent of the Carter Adminsitration. Also in my own memory is her refusal to depart, spending the last two weeks of her tenure badgering the Foreign Minister for customs exemption for household effects to furnish the rented apartment in which she intended to stay after vacating the residence. Or the solution to the departure problem, which involved the Nepalese government funding a weekend trip to New Delhi for her, so that they could send her off at the airport and definitively end her tenure. Or the teepee in the back yard at the residence. Or Lowell Thomas’ visit. Or her attendance at the Bicentennial community picnic for Americans in a tie-dye t-shirt, no bra. (I have a photograph of her standing next to the MSG detachment at the flag ceremony, Marines in dress uniform.) Or her whole-cloth dream that several officers in the embassy, David and I included, were involved in a large-scale hashish cultivation and distribution scheme. Or the complaint she registered with CA when I insisted that she get a tourist passport to replace the no-expiration diplomatic passport she held at the time. She complained to Barbara Watson directly that I had cancelled her passport. Fortunately I had the FAM on my side. David’s account may embellish a bit, but his overall conclusion is not far off the mark. I did have a problem with airing this dirty Maytag laundry in this way — Stu Kennedy asked me about her in my own oral history interviews, and I dodged him, as I thought it was unseemly to push this out in public, particularly since 25 years had passed between the events recounted and David’s interviews. But most of the principals in the case, including Mrs. Maytag, have passed on, so let me affirm most of it.

  • Chris

    My, that is some memorable stuff. We do appreciate you writing and corroborating the general tenor of David Fischer’s piece.

  • christian gibson

    I was just reading a Dutch novel located in Nepal in the late seventies, in which the leading character is sleeping fitfully under his mosquito net when suddenly he wakes to hear something moving in his room. It is a woman – ‘Gloriah Ferrara’, the US ambassador to Nepal, who then conveniently drops her clothing and climbs naked into his bed….. My guess is that this character is modelled on Marquita Maytag

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