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Lesley Dorman and the Founding of FLO

Lesley Tanburn Dorman devoted her life to her own family and to her wider family – the Foreign Service. Her work to help the families of Foreign Service Officers contributed to the creation of the Family Liaison Office (FLO) at the State Department. Born in England, she met her husband Philip in London, where he was stationed at the U.S. Embassy. She accompanied him to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia before moving to Washington in 1971.

As president of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), Lesley Dorman testified at congressional hearings and led a team that drafted the “Report on the Concerns of Foreign Service Spouses and Families” that led to the establishment of FLO in 1978. She was also instrumental in the creation of the Overseas Briefing Center and helped secure survivor annuities and pro-rata pension shares for divorced spouses by testifying on Capitol Hill. In honor of her advocacy, AAFSW created the Lesley Dorman Award to recognize a member each year who has performed outstanding service.

Lesley Dorman was interviewed by Penne Laingen in March 1987.

To read more about Foreign Service life, spouses and children, another view of the 1972 Directive on Spouses, or to learn about the ground-breaking Palmer case, please follow the links.


 “We really got 100 percent support”

One of the things that Secretary of State Vance tried to do (and I have great respect for Secretary Vance), along with Ben Reed, who was Under Secretary for Management during the Carter Administration, was to recognize spousal partnership. After the Family Liaison Office was opened, the Secretary held a reception on the Eighth Floor for those of us who were concerned with this and had worked hard to achieve this end, and did indeed present us with framed Certificates of Appreciation from the State Department… (Lesley Dorman is seen at left.)

Most Foreign Service spouses do make an effort. I have seen drones. You are always going to get drones in any society, but most of the people have been hard-working bees, and I really feel that it’s a little demoralizing to work that hard and not be able to build up any sort of resume.

Even now, it isn’t possible really in many countries [for Foreign Service spouses] to get employment. First of all, there isn’t reciprocity with many countries and, even if there is reciprocity like we have in the U.K., jobs simply aren’t there. These people have their own unemployment. You’re lucky if you get a little job in a photography shop on Fulham Road. So, I mean, it’s easy to say what should be done, but the realities are so different…

After the AAFSW Forum Report [on the concerns of FS families and spouses] was disseminated, we went through various procedures to establish the FLO. Jean Vance and I had a number of meetings with Joan Clark, who subsequently went as Ambassador to Malta. Joan Clark and her sidekick Phyllis Bucsko, a very bright woman, were with Management. We had a lot of negotiations with both of them.

We went to see the Director of AID, John J. Gilligan, and had a long session with him.  He was very cooperative on all our ideas, on the various concerns that we had on education, medical, divorce, children, employment and the rest of it.

We went to see John Reinhardt (seen right), who had just come aboard as Director at United States Information Agency (USIA), and, of course, we had American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) there for that, because AFGE was the labor union for them. And they were all very responsive, really, very responsive indeed. They all had their own team with them, one or two people and so forth.

Then I briefed the Secretary of State [Cyrus Vance], again with his full team, and that was (laughs) quite a terrifying experience. Apparently, there was quite a lot of briefing on that day, and I learned afterwards that there was a competition as to who did the best, and I’m saying this without any real modesty, but apparently I won (laughs).

I was quite terrified. I always remember the Secretary (seen left) saying to me, “Are you going to read that or do you want to extemporize or pull out the pieces you want?”

“No,” I said, “I’m going to read it. It’s fairly short, Mr. Secretary, and then I will speak to the various points.”

And it worked. It went very well. If you don’t read from your brief under those circumstances, you can be tempted to leave things out which are frightfully important.  We really got 100 percent support; I can really say that.

From there, after meeting with all these people, we then chose the office space [for the Family Liaison Office.]  I want to say here that any organization that is dealing in a negotiating style should never relinquish that negotiating ability and opportunity until the ribbon is cut, until the office is opened, because once you let the reins go, it’s a serious business.

Jean Vance and I sat on a panel to choose the Director of FLO. We sat with one of the top people in Personnel, and there was an Assistant Secretary who was in charge of our panel, and we simply worked from dawn to dusk.  Jean and I were there at 8:30 AM and we never moved from the room until 1:30 PM. How we did it, I don’t know. And then we went on until closing time.

It was a really very exhausting process. We got hundreds of resumes and got it down to ten people…They were really from everywhere. When we got down to five, Jean wasn’t on the final panel, which I was sorry about, but I did discover that USIA and AID weren’t going to be on the panel and I did point this out. I said, “There may be funding, you know. They are part of the foreign affairs community.” So, anyway, they came aboard…

“FLO is a two-way channel of communication for the foreign affairs community”

Everyone in the foreign affairs agencies was extremely supportive in what we were trying to do. It was agreed that there should be an office. We had really wanted it to be called Community Liaison Office, mainly because of concerns that we felt might arise from the Staff Corps side of things. Family Liaison Office is what the Department wanted.

I had joined WAO (Women’s Action Organization) and also September Seventeen, which was the Staff Corps Group, because the Staff Corps felt that wives were getting jobs overseas under a certain aegis, at certain posts, which normally the Staff Corps could get (e.g. excursion tours).

They [Staff Corps members] did view the wives as a threat. Once the Family Liaison Office was established, we were able to deal with this very effectively and to give conclusive proof that we had not encroached on the Staff Corps preserves in any way.

We also asked that Family Liaison Office be under the highest echelon of Management because we knew it would have a problem within the Department on getting started…

I want to put on record what was in the program when the M/FLO was opened: “The FLO (That’s M for Management and FLO for Family Liaison Office) is a two-way channel of communication for the foreign affairs community, a central clearing house, a resource center and a referral service. It provides information related to Foreign Service living to employees and family members in Washington and abroad.”

It communicates the individual and collective concerns of families to the foreign affairs agencies. And, of course, we know now that there are little CLOs (Community Liaison Offices), which are little FLOs, in many posts around the world.

I think that today there are very few posts without them (Community Liaison Officers)… There are many marvelous stories of what is going on in the field with CLOs, but we do have to address…problems, because that’s what you want to put right…

Now, of course, the FLO has expanded. It took one year to get it and Secretary Vance gave a marvelous party upstairs for all of us and gave us all certificates of appreciation which were framed. (Below, FLO founders Mette Beecroft, Joan Clark and Lesley Dorman.)

It was a very nice party. Philip Habib came, made an effort. Everybody was there. I made a speech. The Secretary made a speech. The head of AFSA [the American Foreign Service Association] also made a speech.

We really felt that we had achieved something.