Thursday, January 20, 2011

People In Government

President Obama gave high praise recently to former diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke. He acknowledged Holbrooke’s service given deliberately and unreservedly as a public servant. Obama challenged young people in the diplomatic Corp, urging them to invest in public service.

His remarks reminded me there is a cadre of trained professionals--government employees--who go quite unrecognized. Behind every ambassador--a political appointee--is a staff of professional Civil Service personnel managing each Embassy’s daily affairs, while the appointee does whatever Ambassadors do.

I think of Foreign Service Officer Ralph N. Clough. Clough, joined the State Department in 1941 and spent 25 years in Foreign Service as an East China Expert. He served in mainland China, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Britain and Taiwan.After graduating from Shanghai University in Beijing, the Seattle native served until
1969, becoming deputy chief of mission in Taiwan before finishing his career as a member of the Policy Planning Council of the State Department.

Ralph attained the top grade in his field, (FSO 17), after which he authored numerous interpretive books on Asian affairs, taught at several leading Universities, remaining on call for ongoing consultating work.In the 1970s, he served as adviser to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and later became a senior fellow and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Institute for Sino-Soviet Studies, George Washington University and the Asia Society Washington Center.

His final position, beginning in the mid-1980s, was as a lecturer and coordinator of the China Forum at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He retired in 2003 and died in August 2007 at 90, after an extended illness.

Ralph circled the globe as a consultant for many in Congress. He wrote and edited numerous books and papers on the Far East and U.S. foreign policy, including “Island China” (1978), and I have several on my shelf.

Ralph left mainland China when his wife was dying of polio after learning that her death was imminent. The Communist takeover necessitated his arranging her care with his staff while he took his two young sons in his arms and literally ran for his life. He crossed the border into Taiwan, made his way stateside, met his in-laws, whereupon his mother-in-law collapsed on the spot and died when she learned of her daughter’s death.

Later, Ralph met and married a young American government linguist (7 languages), cryptologist, and former pilot in the Ferrying Command. This Oklahoma-born Irish-Cherokee, named Awana, was next older sister of the girl I married in 1947. Ralph and Awana shared 50+ years together, raised his two sons and reared two girls of their own … across the backyard fence from Katie Couric of CBS.

I first met those little girls when they visited us in Wheeling, WVA at perhaps 4 or 5. When they became excited they would lapse back into their familiar Chinese, not yet acclimated to our ways. One of those girls now sits in the number two office at EPA in Washington, a brilliant lawyer, and her sister is a Marine Biologist.

I remember when Awana took Ralph to rural Oklahoma and her baby brothers (strapping 6-footers), took their fancy diplomat fishing Oklahoma style in a Welty, OK stock pond. It enriched family lore around Welty when Ralph caught and proudly exhibited his prize catfish of several pounds.

More important to me was the day this stiff Presbyterian attended our Mother-in-law’s Memorial and encountered 16 Church of God preachers who had long known this humble woman. Mother Stiles, a praying woman, was known for praying aloud daily (5:00 a.m.), out back of the house and at the end of the path--the outhouse. She prayed as was her custom and anyone in Oklahoma that knew Mother Stiles knew “she talked to God” and wonderful things happened when she prayed.

Following that service, Ralph climbed into their car and tearfully demanded to know who would pick up the mantle from Mother Stiles … that was the day Ralph Clough exercised his faith and assumed the mantle from “Mary Violet,” which she had faithfully worn some 70 years.

We seldom discussed politics and to this day I don’t know their party politics. What I do know is, there are a host of people of integrity and faith in high places in our government that quietly serve our best interests as Americans, and without recognition. They perform services and increase governmental efficiency in a bureaucracy that serves us well, and without which we would be hard put to replace, whatever people say about government waste.

From Warner’s World,

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