The Foreign Service Journal, November 2013

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2013 57 AFSA NEWS ACT I VE AFTER ACT I VE- DUTY Former FSO Makes the Most of Her 105 Years Talk about active after active duty—Edna Grenlie, Foreign Service retiree, AFSA mem- ber and member of life for 105 years! Now that’s some- thing, even though billboards now tell us that 30 percent of those born today will live to be 100. Edna is a vital 105. On Oct.17, I interviewed Edna at her residence in the San Francisco Towers, the lifecare community where she lives on Pine Street. I also had the pleasure of present- ing her with a certificate confirming her “Honorary AFSA Member” status, appre- ciation for her many years of membership and gratitude for the generous contribu- tions she has made to AFSA’s legislative action fund. Edna was born in Scan- dinavia, Wisc., in 1908, the second of eight children with sober parents who loved the outdoors. Everyone Edna knew spoke Norwegian, as did she—Wisconsin was like that back then. So what has Edna been doing for the last 105 years? She made it through junior college before leaving home at 19 to find a job in Chicago. When that didn’t work out, she returned home and took a secretarial correspondence course before landing a job with the state tax office in Illinois. The conversation with Edna weaved in and out for more than two hours. She was fun to interview—good at remembering the distant past, but sometimes a little foggy at the recent present. In the 1930s, a friend was moving to Washington, D.C., so Edna decided to go as well. She ended up with a job in the passport office at the Depart- ment of State. Edna’s eyes lit up when she said, “I wanted one of my own,” referring to a passport. In 1938, Edna’s career in the Foreign Service began when she asked to go over- seas as a secretary. She was offered, but refused, South Africa (“too far”) and Riga (“too cold”), but Madrid was “just right!” The chronology of Edna’s assignments went something like this: Madrid, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Bergen, Oslo, Manila, Mexico City, Palermo and Dublin (with a brief stint in Cork). She served as vice consul in Manila and Pal- ermo, and consul in Dublin. The fact that she could remember the posts, not to mention some of the details, was amazing. Edna’s obser- vations during our conversa- tion revealed just who she is. She never felt “discriminated against as a woman” in the Foreign Service. Only once was a young male officer “unpleasant.” After she made the mistake of saying she spoke Nor- wegian,” two assignments in Norway followed. “If I had had a pet in the Foreign Service it would be a horse.”“I loved driving my MGB along the hedgerows in Ireland.” And, despite never marrying, “I was never lonely while in the Foreign Service.” Edna is keenly aware of the differences and dangers the Foreign Service faces today. She rose through the ranks, and feels she would not qualify for the Service today. Although she served in Europe during World War II, she believes the world is a much more dangerous place for FSOs today, citing drug wars and terrorism. And although her grandniece is studying at American Univer- sity, in Washington, D.C., she doubts she will go into the Service. So how did a young woman from rural Wisconsin leave home to become a member of the Foreign Ser- vice? What did her parents think of her going off into the world as a single woman? Her reply was filled with emotion, “I chose my own path. My parents were good to give me so much con- fidence. My father never deigned to answer the phone, except once, and that was when I was about to leave D.C. for overseas,” she recalled tearfully. “I lived in the best of times. I was very fortunate. The Foreign Ser- vice taught me to be adapt- able and open-minded.” Edna retired from the Foreign Service in 1973 at the age of 60. Since then, she has traveled the world, volunteered with the League of Women Voters and the International Hospitality Center, enjoyed opera and ballet and subscribed to The New Yorker. Today, she does yoga twice a week, physical therapy once a week with a professional and hopes she can go down to San Fran- cisco’s Chrissy Field one day. She ascribes her longevity to genes, an occasional glass of wine and the avoidance of TV talk shows, “where they just talk over one another.” n BY DONNA AYERST, AFSA NEWS EDITOR