“The first time I heard of Foreign Service, I knew that’s how I wanted to spend my life,” said Judy Baroody in a recent interview. “I was amazed to learn that you could be paid to travel and live overseas.”
Alas, she soon discovered that to become a Foreign Service Officer is not so simple.
“When I was at William and Mary, I took the Foreign Service exam and didn’t pass. But I finished college in three years and spent the next year traveling in Europe, the U.S. and Canada. I then became a TV reporter for almost seven years, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but never forgot the Foreign Service.”
In 1984 she took the exam again, passed it with flying colors and started a 33-year career in the Foreign Service, retiring recently with the rank of Minister-Counselor at the State Department.
Her first overseas tour of duty was at the U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria. It was followed by Tel Aviv, Israel; Casablanca, Morocco; Nicosia, Cyprus; Santiago, Chile; Baghdad and Paris, where she was responsible for media relations and cultural affairs for the embassy and six field posts, a staff of 26 and a $1.4 million budget, She also served in Washington at the State Department, and taught at American University and the National War College.
Considering that she didn’t join the Foreign Service the traditional way — out of college — I asked her what was the path she chose to follow.
“Having been a reporter was a great preparation for my primary career field of public diplomacy, which involves dealing with the press, culture and exchange programs, such as a Fulbright,” she said. “As a journalist, I picked up the important skills of meeting deadlines, synthesizing information quickly and reporting it in clear English. I have also drawn heavily on my education at William and Mary, where I majored in modern languages.”
What Baroody seems to cherish the most is that her Foreign Service career allowed her to accomplish meaningful, purposeful work that benefited Americans and allies around the world and advanced peace.
“I chose Damascus, Syria, as number one when my incoming group was given a list of embassies around the world. All my colleagues put Damascus last. In 1985, Syria was stable and the embassy was filled with exceptionally gifted officers and a great ambassador — the best way for a rookie to learn the work of diplomacy.”
Baroody admits there is a cost to spending a good part of one’s life overseas. “You can be intensely lonely, away from family and friends, and you miss many milestones in your family’s life. Living overseas can be a real challenge. Sometimes housing is not the best, and health facilities in many countries are not up to U.S. standards.”
But she maintains that even now, she cannot imagine a more satisfying career for those who crave the opportunity to see new places, experience unfamiliar customs and perspectives and “serve our country by building friendships and telling the American story abroad — of our society, politics and principles on which the U.S. was founded.”
Responding to my question, what she considers her most satisfying experience overseas, she said: “It was working in Cyprus to promote peace and reconciliation on an island that has been divided by a UN-patrolled no man's land since 1974. My husband, Dick Krueger, was hired as a special assistant to the ambassador to bring the two sides, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, together on a grass-roots level. This meant we were able to work side-by-side to achieve a goal that was important not only for Cyprus, but also for U.S. international interests.”
But Baroody, also had some fun. In Casablanca, she created a column in the embassy newsletter, describing the offerings of marvelous restaurants in Casablanca. The U.S. ambassador in the capital city of Rabat loved fine cuisine. He soon began to find pretexts for lunching in Casablanca.
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place” a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com