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George P. Shultz served as the 60th U.S. Secretary of State from 1982 to 1989. A venerable public servant and statesman, he was renowned for his congenial temperament, diplomatic acumen and sense of duty. Secretary Shultz was especially instrumental in orchestrating historic diplomatic breakthroughs and warming relations with the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War. He passed away on Feb. 6, 2021, at the age of 100.
In his honor, The Foreign Service Journal invites members of the Foreign Service who knew and worked with the former Secretary of State to send us your remembrances, to be published here. To contribute to this living memorial, please send your brief essay (up to 500 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
With great respect, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) honors the legacy of former Secretary of State George Shultz upon his passing in February 2021. George Shultz was the 60th Secretary of State, from 1982 to 1989, and played a critical role in charting policies that led to the end of the Cold War.
Shultz also served as Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Labor, and director of the Office of Management and Budget prior to serving as Secretary of State and was a top cabinet official in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations. His influence stretched to all corners of the U.S. government, and his policies and principles still shape and mold the teachings of our institution.
FSI is grateful to Secretary Shultz for his considerable legacy, and we are proud that our main campus was renamed the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center on May 29, 2002, in his honor. As Secretary of State, Shultz urged Congress to provide funding to build FSI’s first permanent facility.
After Congress appropriated funds, Shultz prioritized the FSI construction program and protected it from departmentwide budget cuts during the late 1980s. In recognition of his contributions to FSI, several national leaders, including former Secretaries of State Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, and former Vice President Dick Cheney attended the renaming ceremony to celebrate alongside Secretary Shultz.
Through his actions and words, Shultz stressed the importance and tremendous value of investing in America’s foreign affairs professionals. FSI is proud to deliver world-class diplomatic training and careerlong learning opportunities that U.S. government foreign affairs professionals require to excel in today’s global arena, advance U.S. foreign policy priorities, and deliver on behalf of the American people. Secretary Shultz both relied on and championed the work of our foreign affairs professionals and stressed the importance of communication and careerlong learning. As Shultz once said, “I realize that my job as a leader ... was to create a situation in which everyone learned, including me.”
Shultz will be deeply missed but the lasting legacy of his principles, teachings and values will live on in the halls of FSI’s George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center.
The Foreign Service Institute
U.S. Department of State
Shultz was SecState when I worked in the 24 x 7 Operations Center; he would often call in to see what was going on in the world. Occasionally, I would have to call him in the middle of the night to report on one crisis or another. Even when being awakened at three in the morning, he was a perfect gentleman, often repeating back a summary of what I had briefed him about, and then asking how everyone on the team was doing that night. It is no wonder that State employees thought Shultz was terrific.
As a second-tour Foreign Service officer, I was serving as watch officer in 1987 when Executive Secretary Mel Levitsky rushed into the Ops Center and made a beeline for my station. He told me Secretary Shultz was right behind him and needed to use my TacSat phone as the Secretary’s was out of order. I quickly primed my phone for a call to our ambassador in Moscow, Jack Matlock.
The Secretary arrived and amiably asked if I would mind his using my phone. I said I’d be happy to help and relinquished my watch officer station to Secretary Shultz. Before taking the call, Secretary Shultz said that, since he was using my phone, he’d like me to be able to listen in on the call, which he said would be interesting.
A classic understatement—I got on the line as Ambassador Matlock relayed the historic news that Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had agreed to the final elements of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Secretary Shultz welcomed the news.
Concluding the call, he and the Executive Secretary wished everyone well and departed. I was struck by the graciousness of the man toward a junior Foreign Service officer, even at a moment of high diplomatic drama.
In the summer of 1988, I was seconded from the Ops Center to the Japan Desk, which was checking me out prior to assigning me to Tokyo via language training. I was dispatched as notetaker to Secretary Shultz’s meeting with former Japanese Foreign Minister Tadashi Kuranari.
Secretary Shultz graciously had me sit directly next to him on a sofa. When former Foreign Minister Kuranari arrived, he brought a surprisingly large number of straphangers, clearly surprising the Secretary, who nonetheless shook hands and gamely posed for photos.
When we finally settled down for the meeting, the atmosphere was suddenly shattered by the sound of jackhammers and other construction work nearby. Everyone turned nervously to the Secretary, bracing for a negative reaction, but Secretary Shultz continued to display his implacable patience by saying, “Any time I hear the sound of a hammer in this building, I’m glad to know that somebody here is doing an honest day’s work.” Everyone laughed and then pressed on with the discussion.
As the CLO coordinator in Copenhagen in 1988, I had the honor and pleasure of arranging for Secretary Shultz to meet with our employees and family members. He was kind and gracious, and clearly valued our efforts to support his visit and U.S. foreign policy. This is a picture of him with Ambassador Terence Todman (far left) and our Marine security guards at that event.
Lycia Coble Sibilla
Deputy Human Resources Officer
I have shared my deeper thoughts about Secretary George Shultz’s leadership model in a piece published by The National Interest, but let me add two additional fond memories.
First, Secretary Shultz treated his staff with the utmost respect, and he enjoyed having fun with them. For his birthday in December 1982, we were in Rome so we on his staff arranged a surprise celebration. We prepared mock birthday messages from his fellow NATO foreign ministers, which we framed and presented at the party. He and we really enjoyed the messages and the celebration!
As I was preparing to leave my service in S the following summer (1983), I told Secretary Shultz that I wanted to take a year for midcareer training at the JFK School so I could learn more about leadership and management in the public service. He immediately expressed his full support and noted how important it was for Foreign Service officers to have this opportunity. Shultz remained consistent in his support for strengthening the educational opportunities for Foreign Service officers, which is why the Foreign Service Institute was subsequently renamed for him.
Earl Anthony (Tony) Wayne
Career Ambassador, retired
George Shultz’s legacy is embodied in two concepts that he personified. The first is trust. “Trust is the coin of the realm,” Shultz famously stated. In the highly political world of Washington, to Shultz that meant that you should never make promises you don’t intend to, or cannot, keep. The second is about the nature of service and what it means to be a public servant.
On July 23, 1987, Secretary Shultz testified for six hours before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages affair. I left the office that day around lunch time and listened to Shultz’s testimony on the car radio as I drove. I stopped at the supermarket on the way home, but stayed in my car, riveted, as I listened. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) had just asked Shultz about reports that he had tendered his resignation on several occasions during his service as Secretary of State, including at one point during the Iran-Contra fiasco.
As the Secretary recounted his reasons for offering to resign at different times, he said something that has stayed with me ever since: “In jobs like the job I have, where it is a real privilege to serve ... you can’t do the job well if you want it too much. You have to be willing to say, ‘goodbye’—and I am.” (See comments at approximately the 4:05 hour mark of testimony, found here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?9641-1/iran-contra-investigation-day-34.)
I only recently looked up his exact words, but I have never forgotten what those words meant. They stayed with me and guided me throughout my Foreign Service career. And I have thought of them over the years as we have seen political leaders fail to make, or not make, politically difficult choices, and then as they have contorted themselves into logical absurdities to justify what is, at heart, simply an unwillingness to say “goodbye” to a position of privilege and power. George Shultz was a beacon of integrity and truth because he didn’t want his position “too much.”
Secretary Shultz was also simply a great person to work for. He had a deep respect for the Foreign Service; he was demanding, but he inspired you to want to do your best at all times. He was also warm and thoughtful. Whenever we traveled with him to staff a remote office during Christmas or other holidays, he would invite his DS security detail and the traveling S staff to his home for a cookout with his family.
I am a retired FSO (1980-2005) and served as Special Assistant to Secretary Shultz in 1987. My fellow Special Assistants (there were three of us) in S in those days were Maura Harty and Marcia Wong. We, along with about a dozen other former staffers, had the privilege a few weeks before his passing of participating in a Zoom meeting with Secretary Shultz on the occasion of his 100th birthday. Secretary Shultz kindly indulged us for 45 minutes as we each reminisced about our time in S over the years and recounted how influential he was in shaping our careers, our lives and our characters. As we each recounted our experiences and memories, there was a common and obvious thread: We were blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to work for George P. Shultz, a great American.
George Shultz was a shining personal and professional example to each of us of what it means to be a true public servant. His service and integrity especially stand in contrast to the deliberate weakening of our country’s global leadership and to the undermining of the State Department and the Foreign Service by the previous administration.
When I think of George Shultz and any time I read about him in the news, the first word that comes to mind is “class.” He was obviously a man of great substance and achievement. His resumé speaks for itself. But that often misses what kind of man he was. I was the deputy chief of mission in Nairobi in 1987 when Secretary Shultz came for a visit centered around a meeting with then-President Daniel Arap Moi. In addition to organizing the visit, I was the notetaker at the Shultz-Moi meeting.
Secretary Shultz had some difficult issues to deal with in the discussions: Kenya was a reliable friend in Africa, and we had substantial programs there. At the same time, the U.S. was deeply concerned about the allegations of corruption and human rights abuses which several months earlier had been aired on the front page of The Washington Post while Moi was in Washington for a visit with President Ronald Reagan. Moi was not happy and curtailed his visit after meeting with President Reagan. The Shultz-Moi meeting, however, went well. I drafted the report, which then Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker and the Secretary approved.
During the day of the meeting, my wife, Sharon, escorted Mrs.“O’bie” Shultz on a tour of Nairobi that included a workshop and a visit to a squalid squatter camp right in the middle of the city. The next day, as the Shultz party prepared to board a plane that was to take them to a game park, the Secretary’s wry sense of humor and his genuine concern for those who served him came through. Too many people showed up for the flight, so my wife and I volunteered to give up our seats. The Secretary was gracious in his expression of appreciation; but it was also clear that his safari hat was a bad fit. I offered him mine, which did fit. After some good-natured exchanges, off on safari he went in the DCM’s hat. Both Sharon and I received gracious thank-you notes from the Shultzes.
When Secretary Shultz retired from the Department of State in 1988, I was the U.S. ambassador in Malawi. As he left office, he took the trouble to send all his ambassadors a personal note. To me, he wrote this: “I want you to know that I am aware of and appreciate your energy and dedication. Please extend my special thanks to Sharon for all her work to promote healthy U.S.-Malawi relations… O’bie and I salute you and wish you all the best in the years to come.” He didn’t need to send personal notes to all his ambassadors, but he obviously felt it appropriate, perhaps even necessary, to do so. Class!
Ambassador George A. Trail III
Pinehurst, North Carolina
As the Secretary was about to leave the State Department at the end of his tenure, Glyn Davies and I organized a petition to be delivered to the Secretary, expressing the gratitude of the Foreign Service for giving us the opportunity to support him in a deeply meaningful and effective way. If memory serves, we got about 700 signatures. I don’t think any other Secretary of State has been honored by the Foreign Service in this way. Alas, I don’t have access to the text of the petition, but Ambassador Davies may be able to track it down. Or it may be in the Secretary’s papers.
I sat in on a meeting between Secretary Shultz and the Honduran foreign minister in 1988, while I was in the Western Hemisphere Bureau. The Honduran official, having just returned from a visit to Japan, was brimming with enthusiasm over the idea of a second trans-isthmian canal, this to be a partially “dry” canal through Honduran territory. The foreign minister asked Secretary Shultz whether he might use his connections with Bechtel, as a former Bechtel executive, to promote this dry canal.
Secretary Shultz explained that he had recused himself from all matters dealing with Bechtel upon reentering government service. Recusal did not translate very well into Spanish, nor did our visitor appear to understand the concept. But the point was made, and I certainly understood that Secretary Shultz had firm ethical boundaries.
Joseph G. Sullivan
U.S. Ambassador (retired)
Walnut Creek, California
I spent most of my career as a Labor Officer. We had a conference in Washington while George Schultz was the Secretary of State. He came and spent an hour with us. He was the only Secretary of State who understood what we did and why it was important. The fact that he understood and cared made a real impact on us.
Dan E. Turnquist
FE MC, retired
The media have been full of eulogies for the late George Shultz, whom I remember as the most-consequential Secretary of State under whom I was privileged to serve during my three-decade diplomatic career (spanning Henry Kissinger to Condoleezza Rice). Secretary Shultz was beloved by State Department officers because he trusted and treated us as the professionals we were, faithfully advocating and executing the foreign policy of whatever administration the American people had chosen to guide our nation abroad as well as at home. We never were, nor are we now, the so-called “deep state.”
I would have been too junior to have ever met George Shultz, except that when the Secretary of State visited Kenya in 1987, I was an Embassy Nairobi officer assigned to help look after his wife, O’Bie (after O’Brien, her maiden name). O’Bie Shultz, who died 26 years ago, was a devout Catholic and sought to take Mass wherever she traveled with her husband—the caveat being that she preferred to take the sacraments unobtrusively and without any security. I was delegated to make this happen.
Although my wife and I are not Catholic, we had befriended a Catholic missionary from my contact with Catholic Relief Services (CRS was contracted by our government to distribute official U.S. food aid). Given Mrs. Shultz’s preferred parameters, our friendly priest recommended a cloistered convent of Carmelite sisters in Nairobi. Fortuitously, the Mother Superior and a few other nuns were from a home convent in Cleveland, Ohio, so they were delighted to offer their venue for the Mass.
As with any VIP visit, it was de rigueur that I thoroughly scope out the site beforehand, a task made more challenging in this instance by the fact that, as they were cloistered nuns, we could only communicate seated on the other side of a wire grill. In any event, O’Bie Shultz’s visit went off without a hitch. Following the Mass, the nuns offered up a special prayer for the Secretary of State and his wife. Mrs. Shultz then sat down and enjoyed a lively, conversational exchange with the nuns. Although still separated by the wire grill, someone brought out a beautifully illustrated prayer sheet, adorned with ornate calligraphy, which the nuns had created expressly for the Secretary and Mrs. Shultz.
We then scrambled back to the embassy’s underground parking garage (the chancery was later blown up in 1998), where we rendezvoused with the Secretary’s motorcade. My interaction with Secretary Shultz lasted less than five minutes, most of it listening to his wife wax poetic about her morning Mass at the Carmelite convent. There is a saying in the Foreign Service that if a VIP’s spouse is happy, the VIP will be happy, and you are then (and only then) allowed to be happy. The Secretary of State was pleased and gracious toward me.
A few days later, I hand-delivered an effusive thank you note from Mrs. Shultz to the Carmelite sisters. I still remember her closing words: “You have no idea how much your thoughtfulness and prayers mean to my husband and me.”