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Foreign Service Newly-Weds in 1960s Yemen

Since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Yemen was been a hot spot for unrest in the Middle East. The 1960s saw instability and hostile relations between the socialist South Yemen and the authoritarian Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), also known as North Yemen. The YAR was in the midst of a bloody civil war that would rage for the majority of the decade and would draw Saudi Arabia and Nasser’s Egypt into one of the region’s intractable conflicts. Even today, Yemen continues to be ravaged by internal conflicts with regional partners using the nation as a battlefield to promote their interests in and influence over the Middle East.

The United States recognized the YAR when they deposed King and Imam Muhammad al-Badr who had only risen to the throne the week prior following his father’s death. However, as the fighting continued to tear across the country and the Egyptian military, who at that time were the guarantors of the YAR’s fight against the royalist factions, took increasingly provocative acts against Americans in Yemen, the U.S. Secretary of State made the decision to close its embassy in Sana’a in 1967. The city was captured by republican rebels later that year.

David and Marjorie Ransom were newlywed Foreign Service Officers who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Taiz, Yemen from 1966 until its closure in 1967. David Ransom also served in Tehran, Beirut, Jeddah, the Department of State, Abu Dhabi, the Department of Defense, Damascus, finishing off his thirty two-year career as the U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain. Marjorie Ransom served in Amman, Mumbai, Tehran, Beirut,  Abu Dhabi, Damascus, and Cairo over a period of thirty eight years. Read more

CNN, Tanks, and Glass Walls: The August 1991 Coup

In August of 1991, hard-liners opposed to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev initiated a coup attempt to overthrow him. The rebellion occurred in part because of financial strife as the Soviet Union transformed quickly from a statist to a market-based economy. Long lines formed for essential goods including medicine and fuel, and grocery shelves were empty. Inflation rates rocketed upward as the winter approached, leading to factories lacking the funds to pay their employees. The economic crisis reflected badly on Gorbachev’s leadership and encouraged resistance to the regime.

The coup was led by members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). They held Gorbachev at his country home, demanding that he either resign or declare a state of emergency. However, following heavy civil resistance, the coup attempt ended unsuccessfully a few days after it began.

Although the takeover ultimately failed, the attempt signaled an end to the Soviet era and contributed to the dissolution of the USSR at the end of 1991. It also led to the rise of Boris Yeltsin, the Russian president, who played a pivotal role in opposing the coup from Moscow. While the rebellion ended with little bloodshed, it raised anxiety among those who experienced it first-hand, many of whom feared a rise in violence and a return to hard-line Communism.

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When  One of “The Murrow Boys” Became a Foreign Service Wife

Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson was the only female member of the original generation of CBS Radio war correspondents known as “The Murrow Boys.” A photojournalist and cinematographer, she studied French, German, Italian, and modern history at Vassar College. While there, she also helped found the National Student Federation of America, and in that way met Edward R. Murrow.

Travelling to Europe in 1939 on photojournalism assignments, Breckinridge was in Switzerland when the Nazis invaded Poland, starting World War II. She traveled to London to photograph the evacuation of English children, one of only four American photographers in England for the first months of the war. In November, Edward R. Murrow invited Breckinridge to join him in a CBS radio broadcast about the changes the war had brought to English villages, and then others. Urging her to speak in a deep voice while broadcasting, he hired her as the first female news broadcaster for the CBS World News Roundup to report from Europe.

She ended up broadcasting 50 reports from seven countries and became part of The Murrow Boys, a group of scholarly correspondents that Murrow assembled before and during the war. Only eleven were in the group, including legendary reporters Charles Collingwood, Richard C. Hottelet, Eric Sevareid, William L. Shirer, and Howard K. Smith, as well as Breckinridge.

While working in Berlin, she married Foreign Service Officer Jefferson Patterson. She resigned from CBS, hoping to resume her career in photojournalism, but the State Department would not waive its regulation censoring anything a diplomat’s spouse offered for publication. The couple was posted in Peru, Belgium, Egypt, the Balkans and Uruguay. Read more

Unexploded Ordnance, Spam and Moonshine–Life as Ambassador to Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), sometimes known simply as Micronesia, consists of four states — Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae – spread across the Western Pacific Ocean. They are north of Australia, south of Guam, west of the Marshall Islands and almost 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. Together, the states comprise 607 islands spread across a distance of almost 1,700 miles. The capital is Palikir, located on Pohnpei Island. The first Micronesians settled on the islands 4,000 years ago. 

The FSM was formerly a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, (TTPI), a United Nations Trust Territory under U.S. administration, but it formed its own constitutional government on May 10, 1979.  FSM became a sovereign state after independence was attained on November 3, 1986 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States. Read more

Rooted in the Good Earth: White, Protestant “China Brats” in the Foreign Service

A confluence of two rising movements in the early 1800s, Western outreach to China and reinvigorated Christian evangelism, led to a surge in missionaries going to China from the U.S., the UK and Europe. The Protestant and Catholic missionaries were initially restricted to living in an area now known as Guangzhou and Macau. They were later allowed to settle in five coastal cities, and then permitted to work throughout the country. The number of missionaries in China grew from 50 in 1860 to 2,500 in 1900. Missionary activity reached its highest point in the 1920s; by 1953, the communist government of China expelled them.

Living and working in China was a challenge because of health problems, linguistic barriers, spartan living conditions, and a low success rate in converting Chinese citizens to Christianity. Among the most famous children of missionary families in China was Pearl Sydenstricker Buck, whose Southern Presbyterian missionary parents took her to China as a baby. She recalled in her memoir that she lived in “several worlds,” one a “small, white, clean Presbyterian world of my parents,” and the other the “big, loving merry not-too-clean Chinese world,” and there was no communication between them. Writing about the life of Chinese peasants in her Pulitzer prize-winning novel “The Good Earth,” she also won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Read more

Play it again, Anne: Casablanca’s First Female Consul General

While America was evolving into a more gender-equal society at the end of the last century, conflicts could arise when female Foreign Service officers went abroad to lead diplomatic missions in countries whose foreign contacts were not used to seeing women in positions of authority. This sometimes led to uncomfortable situations. It was the perseverance, forbearance and common sense of these women in pushing past the stereotypes to get the job done that paved the way for a new generation of female FSOs.

Anne Cary (seen right) was among them. A native Washingtonian, she joined the Foreign Service as an Economics Officer in June 1974. She served at the State Department in the Operations Center, the office of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs and other domestic assignments. Overseas, Anne was posted to Brussels, Port-au-Prince, Paris, Addis Ababa, New Delhi, and Casablanca.

Anne Cary overcame gender bias to have a fulfilling career as a Foreign Service Officer, becoming the first female Consul General of Casablanca (1992-1995) and balancing a series of demanding jobs in the State Department with life as a wife and mother. Read more

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. Read more

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Evacuating Liberia, 1990

Being caught up in violent political upheaval and forced to evacuate is among the risks of diplomatic service, as at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia in 1990 in what the Marines called Operation Sharp Edge. The problems started a decade before when a group led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe staged a military coup in Liberia, toppling the government established over a century before by freed American slaves, and beginning a ten-year rule characterized by corruption, economic mismanagement and repression of political opponents. In 1983, Liberian government official Charles Taylor, charged with embezzlement, fled to the US, was arrested and imprisoned. He escaped, underwent military training and raised an army, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. It surged into Liberia in December 1989.

Taylor’s forces quickly gained control of most of the country, but then other rebel factions entered the conflict, not only because of ideological and ethnic differences but also the desire to control natural resources such as gold and diamonds. Read more

Shirley Temple Black: From the Good Ship Lollipop to the Ship of State

Shirley Temple Black, born April 23, 1928, served her country in vastly different ways. As a child star in the late 1930s, she cheered up a nation suffering the effects of the Great Depression, making 20 movies by the time she was six years old. Born April 23, 1928, Shirley Temple was known for films such as “Bright Eyes,” “Curly Top” and “Heidi” as well as songs including “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup.” She ended her acting career at the age of 22 but would return to the spotlight in service to her nation later in life.

In 1968 she was at a conference in Prague when the Soviets invaded. The beginning of her diplomatic career came shortly thereafter, when President Nixon appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations. President Ford named her ambassador to Ghana in 1974, and later as his Chief of Protocol, the first woman to hold that job.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush named her ambassador to Czechoslovakia, just a few months before communist rule was overthrown. President Reagan asked her to direct the Ambassadorial Seminar at the Foreign Service Institute and she  served as a member of the Board and Advisory Council of ADST. She died February 10, 2014. Read more

Roaring through the Riots of Libreville

Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, one the longest-serving rulers in history, opened his newly-independent country’s political system to multiple party participation in the wake of destructive riots in May 1990. As a young man, he held key positions in the government of first President Léon M’ba, was elected Vice President in 1966 and became Gabon’s second president when M’ba died. Bongo served as president of the small sub-Saharan African country for 42 years, from 1967 until his own death in June 2009.

Gabon was prosperous under his rule thanks to a huge resource of oil and a small population, but the millions went to the coffers of Bongo’s family and friends rather than to improve the health conditions of the population or infrastructure of the nation. Although Gabon had one of the highest levels of GDP growth in Africa, it also had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world under Bongo’s rule. Read more