In Memoriam | Amb Roscoe Suddarth (1935-2013)

People Ambassador Roscoe Suddarth

Ambassador Roscoe ‘Rocky’ Suddarth (1935-2013)

The Tennessee World Affairs Council is sad to report the passing on June 29th of Ambassador Roscoe “Rocky” Suddarth, who was raised in Nashville and went on to a distinguished career as a Foreign Service Officer including service as U.S. Ambassador to Jordan. Suddarth’s career took him to many difficult assignments in the Middle East and North Africa during turbulent times in U.S. foreign policy history. He retired from the Foreign Service in 1995 but continued to contribute to the public interest through service as President of the Middle East Institute (MEI). The following statement was released by MEI today:

It is with great sadness that The Middle East Institute reports the passing of Ambassador Roscoe “Rocky” Suddarth on June 29, 2013. Ambassador Suddarth served as the president of MEI from 1995 through 2001. During his tenure, he deftly steered the Institute through transition and growth, including the launch of an MEI website; the creation of a Center for Public Policy to accommodate in-house experts; and a consistent increase in language class enrollment. He and his wife, Michele, also landscaped MEI’s legendary garden.

Ambassador Suddarth hailed from Tennessee and earned degrees from Yale University (BA), Oxford University (MA, history), MIT (MA, systems analysis), and the University of Maryland (MA, music, at the age of 72). He joined the Foreign Service in 1961 and served in Mali, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. He was Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in Jordan from 1975-1979; Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 1979-1981 and DCM from 1982-1985, both in Saudi Arabia; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs from 1985-1987; and Ambassador to Jordan from 1987-1990. He retired from the Foreign Service in 1995, at which time he joined MEI.

In an interview with MEI’s Research Director, Mimi Kirk, in 2010, Ambassador Suddarth related a few highlights from his years as a diplomat, including negotiating trumped-up charges against two Americans in Yemen who had been accused of trying to start a coup. Though he said that it was the biggest challenge of his career, in 1967 he “spent three weeks in jail protecting [their] rights…I shared their jail cell to show the United States was interested.”

Ambassador Suddarth is survived by a daughter, Anne, a son, Mark, and Michele, his wife of fifty years. He will be sorely missed.

Wendy J. Chamberlin, President, MEI


In 1999 Ambassador Suddarth gave a lengthy interview for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Foreign Affairs Oral History Project. It is an amazing portrait of a life spent in service to the United States. We commend it to your attention and share this excerpt here with you:

Q: You say you started out in Tennessee, but your father moved.

SUDDARTH: No, I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. My father had a heart attack when I was five years old. He was 47. We then moved back to Nashville, Tennessee. He had been born in Lebanon, Tennessee and had grown up there and then went through schools in Nashville. I guess the most meaningful was being at Peabody Demonstration School. That was a school that was a demonstration school for the teaching college, Peabody College for Teachers. That is now part of Vanderbilt. They selected so-called “bright” students from around the city as well as others. We had a kind of rarified atmosphere of really tremendous coursework that was wide-ranging – music, chess, Indian beadwork, you name it.

Q: This was based on the John Dewey system. He was at Columbia at the time.

SUDDARTH: Yes, that’s right. We had a regular corps of teachers, highly experienced people, but they would bring in practice teachers and watch them. I remember being given all kinds of IQ tests, aptitude tests, throughout this. We were sort of guinea pigs and took pride in being kind of a young intellectual elite. From my class of 30, we had at least four Ph.D.s, a couple of doctors, an outstanding researcher at NIH, a Rhodes scholar, two diplomats (Olaf Grobel and I both were in the Foreign Service.)… So, it was a great place to get started. Geography was a very important part, thinking about things that led you to the Foreign Service. Dr. Hodson taught us world geography and American geography. Actually, we learned American geography in a very interesting way. We did it at the time of the Indians. So, there were no political bounds in the United States. We learned what America seemed like from a geological, horticulture, natural environment. Then we would study Hiawatha, the way the Indians were looked at. And it was a great musical education. All of this I now draw on in my adult life in a way that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had that exposure.

The complete oral history report can be seen HERE.

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