By all indications, Maria Zammit, past president of the Greater Hampton Roads World Affairs Council, and Vice Chairman, as well as Secretary of the national organization, turned into a foreign policy expert by osmosis.
"Both my parents are from Malta, so I started out with an international perspective," Zammit said in a recent interview with the Gazette. "And I was born very close to the United Nations, and would play in the playground on the premises. But a major influence was backpacking around the world from 1974-75, and I fell in love with Southeast Asia and developed a serious interest in international relations."
During her last year of graduate school at the Paul Nitze School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, she read an op-ed article in the New York Times, written by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. At that time, Holbrooke was a partner in a Washington consulting firm.
"I was so impressed that I applied for a position there. I was hired to work with him and be his assistant," Zammit said.
She never regretted that decision. "I would work with Holbrook's clients, doing research, writing country analyses and working with government agencies on behalf of clients. I also would go to Congressional hearings on behalf of clients and send in follow-up reports. I would work on Holbrooke's testimony to Congress as well as on articles he might write,"
I asked Zammit, how did she get along with her boss, known as "Hurricane Holbrooke."
"Just great, I thought he was terrific to work with, and I enjoyed his sense of humor, his breath of interest, and his incredible insight," she said.
Exposed to such an environment and working during the summer breaks for the Baltimore Council on World Affairs, Zammit became an expert on international and global affairs. When she, with her husband Dr. Michael Graham, and their two sons moved to Virginia Beach, she become the Executive Director of the World Affairs Council here, and, eventually, president or the group.
Under her leadership, the Council attained a new level of recognition by inviting well-known policy makers and analysts as guest speakers, and began an annual program called "Year in Review," in which a prominent journalist was invited to discuss the key global issues of the previous year and their implication for U.S. foreign policy in the year ahead.
The Council has also initiated the Global Citizen of the Year Award. The first was given to Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker for his exemplary, global service. The award was subsequently named after him.
The Greater Hampton Roads World Affairs Council members who enjoy traveling to fascinating destinations have found a unique guide in Zammit. She has led and participated in Leadership Missions throughout the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and Morocco. She led a group to Baghdad in 2009, and one to Kabul, Afghanistan in 2012, both at the invitation of Crocker, who was serving there. Other Leadership Missions and tours included the first American delegation to Viet Nam and a tour to Cuba, where they participated in the first American book fair held there since the revolution.
I asked Zammit, considering her extensive travels, which experience stands out in her mind. "I think," she said, "visiting with a war lord in Kabul was perhaps my most unusual travel experience."
Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, 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