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Distinguished Service

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Distinguished Service: Lydia Chapin Kirk, Partner in Diplomacy, 1896–1984

When her husband, Alan Kirk, was offered the assignment of U.S. naval attaché in London in 1939, Lydia Chapin Kirk packed up her family and embarked on a lifelong journey, one in which she became a firsthand witness to the extraordinary world events of her time. Distinguished Service, her historical memoir, edited by her son, offers a fascinating portrait of a remarkable life, told first from the perspective of a young girl in Erie, Pennsylvania, Paris, and Washington before World War I, and then from her husband’s postings as naval attaché and, later, as U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, Belgium, and Taiwan during the Cold War. Her writing brings alive the unique challenges and complex managerial and social responsibilities of a diplomat’s spouse, especially when facing the perils of looming war, the challenges of Stalin’s Moscow, and lengthy separations from her husband and children.

An accomplished author of four books published in the 1950s and 1970s, Lydia Kirk captures the places and times in which she lived, the youthful adventures and the wartime disruptions. With colorful prose and vivid detail, she offers personal impressions of early twentieth century society, midcentury diplomacy in Cold War hot spots, and leading figures such as President Theodore Roosevelt, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. She has an artist’s eye for her surroundings, revealing candid perceptions of human nature and a tolerant but irreverent approach to humankind.

Roger Kirk served as U.S. ambassador to Somalia and Romania and to the U.N. Organizations in Vienna. After retiring from the State Department in 1990, he taught at Georgetown University, then served as board chair of the Washinton International School, and is now vice chair of a Washington, D.C., think tank. He is coauthor of Romania and the United States: Diplomacy of the Absurd, 1985–1989 (St. Martin’s Press). As editor, he used his mother’s letters and his own experiences with her to complete and polish her manuscript.