The Foreign Service Journal - June 2014 - page 93

JUNE 2014
In his 35 years in the Foreign Service, Ted
Wilkinson alternated between assignments in
Europe and Latin America and missions to
represent the United States in international
organizations. President of the American
Foreign Service Association from 1989 to 1991,
he served as chairman of the Foreign Service
Journal Editorial Board from 2005 to 2011.
Shirley Temple Black:
A Natural Diplomat
o matter how strongly I’ve railed
in these pages about unquali-
fied political appointments as
U.S. chiefs of mission, I want to
add a footnote now to cover the unique
case of Shirley Temple Black. What an
ornament she was for U.S. diplomacy!
My first acquaintance with her was at
the United Nations General Assembly in
1969, when she served as a public delegate
with the rank of ambassador. I remember
one full staff meeting when Ambassador
Charles Yost, taking pride in his team of
expert advisers, called for a kind of show-
and-tell on the Chinese question for the
benefit of the public delegates.
The question came up annually
whether to admit the People’s Republic
of China to the U.N. to replace the exiled
Chinese Nationalist government on Tai-
wan. Wedded to keeping the Chinese seat
on the Security Council out of communist
hands, the U.S. tactic was to have the issue
declared an “important question” by a
simple majority vote, which would then
mean that the PRC could only be admitted
by a two-thirds majority vote.
Shirley Temple Black listened raptly as
the designated contact officers ticked off
reports. An African country was succumb-
ing to Chinese offers of long-term trade
deals and might defect on the “important
question” vote. A European neutral had
a socialist government sympathetic to
China’s aspirations, and might vote for
admission, but wouldn’t go so far as to
offend the U.S. with a “no” on the “impor-
tant question” vote, etc.
Summing up, Amb. Yost said it looked
like we might get through another year
(it turned out to be nearly the last one)
of manipulating the General Assembly
to avoid seating Beijing. He turned to the
public delegates for comment.
Amb. Black showed no hesitation.
“That was absolutely fascinating,” she said.
“Now I understand how we are keeping
Communist China out of the U.N. Would
someone please explain to me why?”
The group looked to Amb. Yost, and
you could see the ripple cross his face.
Even at the U.N., he was more accustomed
to carrying out orders fromWashington
than defending the strategy behind them.
The delegates listened politely as Yost did
his best to put U.S. policy in the global
Despite her refreshing candor in
delegation meetings, Amb. Black found
the U.N. sessions more awesome than one
might have expected. During a plenary,
Amb. Yost and his deputy had to leave the
chamber for consultations, and a page
came to tell us that the U.S. was due to
speak in 10 minutes. Mrs. Black was the
only accredited U.S. representative pres-
ent to deliver the prepared text.
“I can’t possibly do that,” she said, seiz-
ing my hand. How ironic, I thought, to be
holding the hand of America’s best-known
actress as she fidgeted with stage fright.
Happily, one of the principals reappeared,
and she didn’t have to make the fearsome
trip to the podium.
Mrs. Black’s U.N. experience was only
the beginning of a 20-year span of public
service. She soon learned her way around
government as chief of protocol in the
Nixon administration, and impressed
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with her
intelligence and discipline.
Before long she was training chiefs of
mission and their wives in the ambas-
sadorial seminar. Her assignment as
President Gerald Ford’s ambassador in
Ghana followed and, later, she was chosen
by President George H.W. Bush as ambas-
sador to pre-partition Czechoslovakia.
When my predecessor as AFSA presi-
dent, Perry Shankle, made an inspection
visit to Prague, he was impressed with her
enthusiasm for on-the-scene reporting.
She had taken a short-term apartment
rental on Wenceslas Square, where she
could witness the “Velvet Revolution” as it
After hearing Perry’s report, I decided
it was high time to invite Mrs. Black to join
the professional association representing
U.S. diplomats. I wrote to her, and was
delighted when she replied: “Your letter
has won me over.”
It seems that Shirley Temple Black
felt at home in the Foreign Service. Not
only does her website claim that she was
the “first-ever honorary Foreign Service
reminisced: “If I had had my druthers, I’d
have joined the Foreign Service when I
was 20.”
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