AFSA’s Very Own Santa Claus: Carl Edward Dillery, 1930–2016

Ambassador Carl Edward Dillery served as AFSA’s elected retiree vice president from 1991 to 1993 and as chair of the Scholarship Committee from 1997 to 2012.


Ambassador C. Edward Dillery, at right, with 2007 AFSA Merit Award winners who were able to attend the reception. From left, Jason Meer, Erica Wickman, Andrew Keith, Sarah Haviland and Paul Armstrong.
AFSA / Shawn Dorman

Ambassador Carl Edward Dillery, who died on Jan. 23 at the age of 85, was much fitter than Santa Claus. But in spirit, at least, Ed (as he was universally known) bore a striking resemblance to jolly old St. Nicholas, and managed to do so all year round—but most especially on Foreign Affairs Day.

Each May during his nearly 15 years as chair of the American Foreign Service Association’s Scholarship Committee, Ed joyfully disbursed scholarship checks worth thousands of dollars to dozens of deserving high school students. While those funds didn’t come out of his own pocket, he seemed to take just as much pleasure from the annual ceremony as if they had. And in the process, without in any way hogging the spotlight, he transformed what could have been a repetitive series of transactions into something truly profound: an investment in each teenager’s future.

Lori Dec, AFSA’s longtime scholarship director, says she “can’t remember a time when Ed did not have a smile on his face. He was a genuinely nice man, very down to earth, and never let on that he was a former ambassador. He was always ready to assist with any committee business, be it attending an awards lunch, accepting a scholarship check from a donor or presiding over a Merit Awards panel meeting. He will be sadly missed.”

Low-Key Generosity

Ambassador C. Edward Dillery receives an AFSA Special Commendation from then-President Susan Johnson when he retired from the chairmanship of the Scholarship Committee in 2012.
AFSA / Lori Dec

That blend of humility and beneficence was a constant throughout Ed’s 38-year Foreign Service career. In 1958, a year into his first overseas tour, he was transferred from Tokyo to Kobe-Osaka for an assignment as textile reporting officer (which would last until 1961). With characteristic modesty, Ed recounted the notification he received of that decision during the oral history interview Stu Kennedy, of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, conducted with him in 1994:

“I remember [Embassy Tokyo Consul General] Laverne Baldwin calling me in and saying, ‘You have been transferred to Kobe-Osaka as economic officer. With all these good young Foreign Service officers, I can’t figure out why they picked you, but I hope you do well.’”

During that assignment, a local export company asked him to find them an English-language instructor so its senior executives could work better with their American colleagues. Ed did them one better by offering his own tutoring services:

“When the first session was over they said, ‘How would you like to have dinner?’ And I said, ‘That sounds very nice.’ So they took me out to a lovely dinner in real Japanese fashion. We did a little bar hopping, and I took the last train home. And that became the pattern for every Thursday night. So I am afraid they spent more entertaining me than they would have if they had paid me. I got to know them so well that I kept in correspondence with them for many years afterwards.”


That blend of humility and beneficence was a constant throughout Ed’s 38-year Foreign Service career.

A Highly Varied Career

Ambassador C. Edward Dillery, at left, accepts a $4,000 check for the Financial Aid Scholarship Fund from Nick Frankhouser, scholarship chairman of the Public Members Association of the Foreign Service, on May 1, 2008.
AFSA / Lori Dec

Carl Edward Dillery was born in Seattle, Washington, on Dec. 17, 1930, and graduated from Seattle Pacific College in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He spent two years working as an insurance examiner before joining the Foreign Service in 1955. (In 1973, he would earn a master’s of science degree in the administration of national security from The George Washington University.)

From 1955 to 1957, Ed was a foreign affairs officer in the Department of State’s Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs (now the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs). Following the back-to-back assignments in Japan (1957-1961) referenced above, he returned to the department to work in the Bureau of Scientific and Technological Affairs (1961-1965). After spending a year at the University of California at Berkeley, he served as chief of the economic section in Brussels (1966-1967).

Next, Ed volunteered—much to the chagrin of his wife, Marita, as he later recounted in his ADST interview—for a tour in the U.S. Agency for International Development mission in Saigon (1968-1969). Arriving not long after the 1968 Tet offensive, he was stationed in Quang Ngai province as a senior adviser to USAID’s Civil Operations for Revolutionary Development Support program. After a detail to the Department of Defense (1970-1971), he worked in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (1971-1972) and attended the Industrial College of Armed Forces (1972-1973). It was also during this period that he earned his MSA degree from GWU.

The next decade of his career focused on Europe, with assignments as deputy political counselor in London (1973-1976) and deputy chief of mission in Nicosia (1976-1978), followed by four years in the Office of Southern European Affairs, first as deputy director (1978-1979) and then director (1979-1982). He next spent two years as director of the Office of United Nations Political Affairs (1982-1984) before becoming U.S. ambassador to Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati (formerly known as the Gilbert Islands), a post he held from 1984 to 1987.

He was a real professional, a devoted Foreign Service officer and a wonderful human being.
—Ambassador Raymond Ewing


During his three years in Suva, Ambassador Dillery derived special satisfaction from his role in administering the Accelerated Impact Program. This was a small self-help program through which the embassy supported various projects, most of them developed by Peace Corps Volunteers who worked with villagers to build water systems, community halls, health stations—and kitchens, which were especially popular. As Amb. Dillery explains in his ADST oral history:

“In the traditional village, the kitchens were one end of the thatched roof house. They built little annexes on it with concrete slab and concrete blocks and a little stove and running water. They did a lot of that kind of thing and we provided the money for it. My wife and I got to open those projects with ceremonies, and when that happened we received the traditional ceremonial thank-you with the roasted pig and traditional dressed native dancers and cup bearers giving you the native drink, whale’s teeth as a sign of respect, etc.

“It was a great experience. You will find plaques in remote Fijian villages which say that in 1986, Ambassador Dillery opened this school or water system—a nice legacy.”

On his return to Washington in 1987, Amb. Dillery served as deputy director of the Office of Management Policy (1987-1989) and the Bureau of Management and Financial Policy (1989-1992). Before retiring from the Foreign Service in 1993, he served on commissions dealing with international broadcasting and Foreign Service personnel.

Ambassador C. Edward Dillery, at right, gives the John and Priscilla Becker Family Scholarship to Merit Award winner Joshua Downes at the May 1, 2009, reception. AFSA President John Naland, center, congratulates Downes.
AFSA / Lori Dec

Giving Back Through AFSA

A longtime AFSA member, Ed served on the Governing Board as retiree vice president from 1991 to 1993. He taught several AFSA-sponsored Elderhostel (now Road Scholar) courses before becoming chair of the AFSA Scholarship Committee in 1997, and served in that capacity until January 2012. In 2004 Ed received the AFSA Member Achievement Award.

Amb. Dillery was also active in the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, the Cosmos Club and DACOR, and he served on the board of Mediterranean Affairs, Inc. He spoke French and Japanese, and enjoyed golf, tennis and singing in the choir of the Church of the Covenant in Arlington, Virginia.

He is survived by his wife Marita (Lewis) of 62 years; his children, Sara Hynes (and her husband, Jack), Edward L. (and his wife, Katie) and John (and his wife, Sara); and eight grandchildren.

Speaking at Ed’s memorial service on Jan. 30, Ambassador Ray Ewing expressed the sentiments of Ed’s many colleagues and admirers when he remarked: “Ed Dillery was a cheery, upbeat person, always ready with a smile, and a good-natured approach to everything he did. He was a real professional, a devoted Foreign Service officer and a wonderful human being. His passing is a real loss for his family and his many friends.”

Donations from Mrs. Dillery and the couple’s Foreign Service colleagues have established a memorial scholarship in Ambassador Dillery’s name. Contributions are still being accepted to add to this award.

Steven Alan Honley, a Foreign Service officer from 1985 to 1997, is The Foreign Service Journal’s contributing editor. He was editor-in-chief of the Journal from 2001 to 2014.