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AuthorWalter Roberts

Of the various gems of “American Diplomacy” lore passed on to me from my predecessor, Bill Kiehl, the most treasured has been Bill’s tradition of meeting regularly with Walter for coffee and discussion at his apartment in The Watergate. It was during one of these always interesting sessions that Walter revealed to me the research methodology he employed to create those marveously detailed articles on Austria’s disappearance into the Third Reich and miraculous rebirth after World War II. Basically, he told me, he writes his first drafts entirely from memory, then checks primary reference works to confirm that he got it right. Corrections were seldom required. We mourn the loss of this delightful gentleman with whom it was my privilege to have spent all too little time. Walter Roberts was, indeed, present at the creation of USG public diplomacy. (ed.)

On the Shoulders of Giants
William P. Kiehl, Ed. D., Contributing Editor, Books

How often has this phrase been used in sports, business, academia and in other fields when referring to the link between mentors and those they mentored? In the field of public diplomacy, the members of “the greatest generation” were the giants on whose shoulders all since have stood. Walter Roberts, first among others of his generation, mentored the initial cadre of Foreign Service officers with the new U.S. Information Agency. That generation mentored my own generation of public diplomacy professionals. We, in turn, see our clear duty to the next generation of public diplomacy officers now in the State Department and other agencies. And so it goes on— beyond the government reorganizations, the turf battles among and between government entities, the enmity between political parties— to the strengthening of a valuable tool of foreign policy in the pursuit of a peaceful and more prosperous planet.

Dr. Walter Roberts continued his guidance of public diplomacy long after he formally retired from the USIA through his personal example, his teachings and writings. Among his writings, we at American Diplomacy are proud to have presented his rich historical sense to our readers. As the then-Editor of this publication I was able to convince him to share his memories in his first piece written for American Diplomacy in October 2009, “Voice of America: Origins and Recollections” ( The article elicited enormous interest and resulted in Part II in January 2011 ( Thankfully, our current Editor also saw the value in Dr. Roberts writings which continued steadily throughout the remainder of his life. As a person, a public diplomat, a distinguished scholar, and as a contributor to our journal, he will be missed but he will not be forgotten.


Walter Roberts
Some Thoughts and Recollections

Much has been written about the professional life of Walter Roberts: his service at the Department of State, his long, distinguished career at the United States Information Agency, his postings to Belgrade and Geneva, his association with Brown, Georgetown and George Washington Universities, the Salzburg Seminar, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, and the Board for International Broadcasting.  Anyone with a serious interest in wartime Yugoslavia will have read Walter’s “Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies.”  Indeed, without it the tangled skein of the war years in Southeastern Europe cannot be understood.

Of Walter Roberts’ service to his country the public record speaks volumes.  Most especially, those of us who were privileged to work with him need no reminding of his achievements.  But what of Walter Roberts the man?  Each of us sees him in a slightly different light, our impressions necessarily colored by our own experience and by the ways his life impinged on ours.

Perhaps because of the many years I spent in the lands of the old imperium, I find it hard to write about Walter Roberts without first turning to his origins.

Walter was born in Vienna as the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was living its last days. Too often, as the distinguished historian István Deák recently observed, Austria-Hungary is viewed as “decrepit, moribund and obsolete.”  But it also produced, Deák tells us, “…dazzling economic development; a railway density matching that of France; and an education system that, together with the emancipation of a million Jews, created much of modern physics, mathematics, nuclear science, computers, medicine and culture.”  It was in the fading years of this intellectually-inspired epoch that Walter first saw the light of day.   Although the collapse of the Dual Monarchy soon followed, and the brilliance that had characterized it flickered and then mutated into turbulence and savagery, the influence of his profoundly cultivated parents and their circle, followed by his years first at gymnasium and then the University of Vienna, marked him as a deeply civilized Central European: a man open to culture and ideas in all their variety.

The world of the Hapsburgs, the Freuds, the Schnitzlers, the Klimts, the Kokoschkas, already teetering, was soon to be brutally crushed.  The agony Stefan Zweig conveys so vividly in his autobiography was an agony shared by men like Walter, by his  wife-to-be Gisa, and by tens of thousands like them.

What choices other than self-destruction exist when the world you are born into is destroyed, when its place is taken by a vile doctrine that rejects every norm of civilization, that repudiates values hitherto respected as universal, that burns the books you were taught to revere?  What do you do when your very life becomes forfeit?  What choice is there other than exile?

How a man handles being uprooted, how he manages the devastating psychic consequences of physical and mental dislocation, is a severe test of his mettle.   Some fail utterly and spend the rest of their lives bemoaning their loss; indeed, the longer they lament, the more fanciful their memories of the past become.   Some, perhaps a majority, live out their lives suspended between the world they left behind and the reality of the new one into which they have been thrust.  Some few, the ones firmest in their principles, those fortified by the truest moral compasses, assess their circumstances, determine how best they can contribute to leaving the world a slightly better place, and then set to work.

To this last group Walter Roberts resolutely, unquestionably, belonged.

Already in his twenties when he came to the United States, he immersed himself in the study of our history, our system of government and our values.  Everything he read and learned enriched his already strong belief that what had been created here was remarkable, perhaps imperfect, but in 1940, as the world grew dark, a place of light and hope for mankind.  From this belief he never wavered and to this conviction he dedicated his long life.  Walter Roberts became an American.

I first worked for Walter Roberts in distant 1960 when he was posted as Counselor for Public Affairs at our embassy in Belgrade.   Very quickly my colleagues and I recognized that he was a man of superior intelligence with a deep understanding of the complexities of the Yugoslavia of the time.

But there was more than that.  Perhaps because he was dusted with the pollen of a half-dozen European cultures and understood profoundly the psychologies of the peoples of the continent, he had a genius for interpreting to the larger world American policies and purposes.   There was something instinctive in this, something that came easily and without a hint of artifice.  Walter was also one of those rare beings with a talent for divining the thoughts of his interlocutors, usually before they themselves had quite sorted out their own ideas.   His incomparable memory fell into the same category, and not just when jousting with the opposition, but also at a thousand meetings when with a twinkle in his eye and with courteous certainty, he could say:  “Yes, but that wasn’t quite the way it happened.”

These qualities helped make Walter Roberts the fine diplomat he was, but one must look further to understand the loyalty and affection he commanded.  In the last decades of his life a small group of former colleagues gathered around Walter to augment the unfailing, loving support of his sons.   To name these friends would embarrass them, but they know who they are.  If they were asked to say what inspired the closeness of their friendship with Walter, I think they would cite his humanity, his kindness, and his wonderful sense of humor.

Looking back over fifty years of memories of my own friendship with Walter Roberts, one stands out among the many.

At the last senior staff meeting before Walter Roberts’ retirement, Director James Keogh opened the meeting with an eloquent tribute to Walter’s achievements at USIA.  Jim Keogh spoke at some length because Walter’s story was a long one and because his story was in many ways also the story of USIA.  I was sitting next to Walter, who had in front of him a yellow legal pad.  As the Director spoke, Walter made a few notes.  Then he grew still and bowed his head quite low.   I heard a sound and turned my head.   A tear had fallen from Walter’s eye and dropped on the paper.  And then one more.   In a voice barely audible and in words meant only for himself, Walter said only in America.


Jock Shirley
August, 2014

AuthorAmb. John W. Shirley was born in 1931 in England of an American father and British mother. He attended schools in Britain, France, and the former Yugoslavia. Trapped in Hungary, which he and his father were transiting at the time of the German declaration of war on the United States, he continued his education at a Hungarian secondary school. Following his return to the United States he attended the Augusta Military Academy and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. After service in a USAF Special Activities Squadron in Germany, he joined the U.S. Information Agency’s Foreign Service in 1958.

His foreign posts included Zagreb, Belgrade, Trieste, Rome, New Delhi, Warsaw and a second posting to Rome as CPAO. In Washington he was Area Director for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, All-Europe Area Director and Associate Director for Programs. For the first six months of the Reagan administration he was Acting Director of USIA, Counselor of the Agency (a job created for him) and Acting Deputy Director.

The Presidential Distinguished Civilian Service Award, USIA’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Officer’s Cross of the Hungarian Republic, are among his decorations.

In 1984 Jock Shirley was appointed AEP to the United Republic of Tanzania. He retired following completion of his ambassadorial assignment to found the American Committee to Aid Poland of which he was president. He continues to direct a foundation he established in Hungary to educate talented children of limited means.

He and his wife Katherine, also a retired US ambassador, live in Stonington, Connecticut.

Walter Roberts was a gentleman. An accomplished diplomat, educator, researcher, and writer—he was also a gifted raconteur and bon vivant. His love for family and affection for his many friends is recognized by all who knew him. He enriched our lives immeasurably with his wisdom and wit. And he will be remembered for his extraordinary kindness.

Dr. Barry Fulton is a management consultant at the U.S. Department of State and teaches at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.  A former Associate Director of the United States Information Agency, during his 30-year career as a Foreign Service Officer with the Agency, he served in Brussels, Rome, Tokyo, Karachi, and Islamabad.  Fulton holds a Ph. D. in communications from the University of Illinois, a master’s degree in broadcasting and bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Penn State.   He has taught at the Foreign Service Institute, at various American universities, and the Pakistani Information Academy.   He is the author of Leveraging Technology in the Service of Diplomacy: Innovation in the Department of State and project director and author of the CSIS study, Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age.
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