The Foreign Service Journal, November 2018

60 NOVEMBER 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL service for the Allies during World War II. They demonstrated not only an intrepid spirit but undeniable grit under challenging, even dangerous circumstances. Many had to retire from the Foreign Service and other careers when they were married and started writing to continue in the path of a purposeful life. The Greatest Generation It may be no coincidence that these women chose writing as a profession, as they often seemed to be cast as the heroines of their own adventure stories. Take Kristine Konold, for example. She served with the Office of War Information in London during World War II, where she worked at the American Broadcasting Station in Europe. Before joining the U.S. Information Agency as a cultural affairs officer, she wrote scripts for U.S.-controlled radio stations in Luxembourg and Germany. Marriage ended her Foreign Service career, at which point she devoted herself to writing essays and articles, finally publishing a book about her wartime experiences, Backstage at the Big War. Then there’s Sally Montanari, who wrote two children’s books: one about art called Look Again: Clues to Modern Painting , and a story set in Italy called A Voice from the Belly . Sally had a famous sense of humor and was an airplane mechanic during WWII—a true “Rosie the Riveter.” She wrote for newspapers and raised four children while her husband was employed by what is now the U.S. Agency for International Development. One of her funniest essays can be found in AWorld of Difference : it concerns her husband’s stubbornness about wearing “holey socks” and how that played out in Japan, where they were invited to a dinner where they were expected to take off their shoes. Anne Gordon and her husband, William, served in Ghana, Nigeria, Sweden and the Neth- erlands for USIA. Anne wrote often of her memo- ries of growing up poor, the daughter of a black single mother inMemphis, and how she dreamed of living the adventures her mother told her in stories. “Mama painted lovely lifelike pictures inmy mind’s eye and took us on imaginary trips with real people, places and things. … She led us far fromour dilapidated little frame house of depression days when sometimes we had neither sufficient food nor fuel. Such was the way of life in our all-Negro neighborhood. …We were poor in material goods but ‘chock full of hope.’” It amazed her that she did, in fact, spend her adult life travel- ing the world. Gail Shisler, a younger member of the group who joined in the 1980s, says of Anne: “She told of a life rife with injustices but with no resentments.” Cuban-born Silvia Zimmerman, the daughter of a well-known poet and the granddaughter of a Shakespearean scholar, grew up expecting to be a writer. In 1943 she became the press liaison for the Pan American Union, writing articles, conducting inter- views and writing under a syndicated byline. She also freelanced, penning articles for Vogue and Reader’s Digest . Her writing life diminished when she became a Foreign Service spouse, but she later worked on a memoir of growing up in pre-Castro Cuba. Jerine (“Jeri”) Bird was an FS spouse and writer who ended up co-founding, with her husband, Partners for Peace, an organiza- tion that promoted understanding in the Middle East. Their son, Kai Bird, inherited Jeri’s gift for writing, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his book, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Vintage Books, 2006). Patricia Gordon Erickson edited AWorld of Difference. First a Foreign Service officer, she turned to writing after marrying FSO Elden Erickson in the 1950s, publishing a series of travel books called Roamin’ Round Rotterdam, Roamin’ Round Holland and Roamin’ Round Frankfurt. Marlen Neumann initially worked for the Department of State, but it was her professor husband who was later tapped to be an ambassador. After his retirement, Marlen focused on writing chil- dren’s books and poetry. Her son Ronald Neumann later became a career FSO and three-time ambassador. The list goes on: Biffy Sanders, the founder of the Writers’ Group, started writing letters home from FS assignments and turned that into a freelance career. Mavis Perry Barrett started as a journalist in Charleston. Lee Austin was an FSO who resigned The AAFSWWriters’ Group after publication of AWorld of Difference in 1987. Back row, from left: Lucile Klontz, Silvia Zimmerman, Gail Shisler, Jerri Bird, Lee Austin, Anne Gordon, Mary Lou Weiss and Marlen Neumann. Front row, from left: Kristine Konold, Mary Sargent, Alice Slattery, Katherine Little, Sally Montanari, Mavis Perry Barrett, Madeleine Meyer and Biffy Sanders. COURTESYOFWENDYMONTANARI