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Remembrance of Eugene (Gene) Paul Kopp (November 20, 1934-May 13, 2019)

photo of Gene Kopp

Gene Kopp, who served twice as Deputy Director of USIA (1973-1977 and 1989-1992) and then Acting Director in 1976 -1977, died on Mon., May 13, 2019, of cardiac arrest. You’ll find below the moving and warm remembrance his friend and colleague, Ambassador Jock Shirley, gave at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, in Alexandria, on May 24.



by Ambassador Jock Shirley

Father Kelly,
Katherine, Paul, Laura,
Colleagues of old,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Katherine has done me the honor of asking me to add a few words to Dick Allen’s elegant and touching recollections of the life and times of his old friend.

She invited me to speak because she would like it remembered that Gene considered his years of service as Deputy Director and Acting Director of USIA — the United States Information Agency — as perhaps his best.

Particularly for the younger folk, I should say that USIA was a ten-thousand strong, worldwide foreign affairs agency charged with the mission of maintaining sustained ideological pressure on our adversaries.

I should also note that Gene Kopp’s association with USIA spanned the period ‘69-‘92 with a couple of interruptions. The interruptions were inflicted by two presidential elections, the results of which Gene strongly disapproved.

There was nothing wishy-washy about Gene’s politics.

Katherine said she hoped I would focus not so much on Gene’s very considerable professional achievements, but that I should concentrate rather on the pleasure he took from the company of the “bright and engaging” – Katherine’s words – men and women with whom he worked.

I think old colleagues – old only in the sense of years of experience, it goes without saying – would agree that the exceptionally good feeling that existed between management and staff during Gene Kopp’s years in the leadership was in many ways attributable the fact that from the first day of his tenure to his last, he made clear that we had his full and valued confidence.

He, and we, understood perfectly the difference in our roles, but he never let us feel that we were anything less than full members of the team.

But there was more to it than that.

To understand why Gene was comfortable with us, it may be best to turn the tables and ask why we were comfortable with him.

– We quickly recognized his high intelligence.
– We liked the way he led, the clarity and color of his speech and the speed of his thought.

We were thankful:
– for his sophisticated understanding of the issues;
– for his informality and geniality, which combined nicely with his underlying steeliness;
– for his lawyerly talent for asking the right questions;
– for his fairness and for his attentiveness to the sensibilities of those who worked for him.

And which of us will forget his humor?
– His impeccably told stories, many rooted in the valleys and hillsides of his beloved West Virginia, were repeated hundreds of times around the world.
– No one could match his timing. No one could reproduce the cadence of his delivery, so redolent with echoes of his native soil.
– I recall once going to the office of our colleague Bill Payeff to find Bill and Gene doubled over in explosive, exuberant laughter, tears pouring down their cheeks. I remember thinking that when senior political appointee and foreign service officer are so demonstrably attuned and at ease, we were in good hands.

I believe all of us who knew him are touched to hear Katherine say that Gene thought he found at USIA a group of “bright and engaging” people.” It may have helped that we were a variegated lot: Foreign Service types, writers, former newsmen, academics, men and women steeped in every aspect of American life, even a smattering of photographers, painters, and poets.

But if Gene liked us, why, we liked him. We admired him personally and professionally. We respected him deeply and we shall miss him sorely.

I hope you can find a measure of solace in the knowledge that your husband was a good friend to so many of us and that he lives on in our memories.

I know that you and Paul and Laura and Gene’s beloved grandchildren William, Walker and Sara, will take pride in the knowledge that Gene Kopp served his country in important positions with honor and distinction at a moment in our history when we were at the pinnacle of our power.

I know the place he will always occupy in the pantheon of my own friendships.

Church of the Blessed Sacrament
Alexandria, Va.
May 24, 2019

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