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y first encounter with a head of
state, I seem to remember, was on
the front porch next door when my
mother held me up to exchange
waves with FDR as he drove down
Montgomery Street in Savannah en
route to give a speech. As I was less
than 2 years old then, “seem to remember” is the appropriate
verb form— as it also might be for the tales that follow.
After a long period without sovereign contacts, a new start
began when I was the Navy duty officer in Naples and re-
ceived a call one Sunday afternoon from the embassy in
Rome. “The king of Saudi Arabia,” I was told, “will arrive at
Capodichino Airport this evening and sail on the
Independ-
ence
for an official visit to the States. We think he may have
a herd of goats with him to provide his usual beverage. Will
you take care of meeting the goats and getting them promptly
to the ship?”
“Aye, aye, sir,” I replied, and began to wonder just how I
might do that. But a call to the commissary manager lined up
a refrigerated truck, which I met at the airport. Finding the
most in-charge-looking FSO within the official enclosure, I
saluted smartly, and said, “I’m here for the king’s goats.”
“Good. Stand nearby, please.”
The plane landed and a platoon of men in white robes with
curved knives disembarked and boarded limos. I waited, but
no goats appeared. It was an inauspicious start for my career
of service to sovereigns.
The next opportunity came when I was a new FSO, and
President John F. Kennedy visited Rome. As a control offi-
cer, I was told that he wished to deliver an unscheduled
speech on Capitoline Hill after calling on the mayor. “But
there will be no one there,” I observed. “All Romans will be
eating lunch.”
“That’s
your
problem,” was the official response. So I
called the U.S. Information Service and ordered up an en-
thusiastic audience for JFK to address.
Next to arrive in Rome was Vice President Lyndon John-
son, preceded by various peculiar demands (e.g., raise the
hotel shower head). Again a control officer, I was told on a
Saturday evening that LBJ wanted to take with him on de-
parture at noon Sunday 50 silk ties and five oil paintings,
which should include some cows and a lot of blue, and be
priced at not more than $150 each.
Deputy Chief of Mission Outerbridge Horsey said he
would round up the ties and I should see to the paintings. So
I called the USIS and ordered them up. At 9 a.m. Sunday,
somehow everything was in place, including five paintings,
one with a cow and another an abstract (with some still-sticky
blue paint) by a USIS staffer — each priced at exactly $150.
Dealing with Peacocks
Continuing my quest for top people, I arrived in Tehran in
1972 for a four-year tour. Each year I escorted a visiting
group of War College colonels to an audience with the shah
70
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 1
T
HE
K
INGS AND
I
A
N
FSO
EXPLAINS WHY CONSORTING WITH HEADS OF STATE
ISN
T EVERYTHING IT
S CRACKED UP TO BE
.
B
Y
H
ENRY
P
RECHT
Henry Precht, who retired from the Foreign Service in 1987,
is the author of
A Diplomat’s Progress: Ten Tales of Diplo-
matic Adventures in the Middle East
(Williams &Company,
2004).
M