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Richard Birn: A Few Recollections of Career Service and Friendship

by Michael Schneider

Richard Birn passed away this past spring, after a rich career in public diplomacy and 61 years of marriage.

Richard and I served in the same Junior Officer Class, sworn in October 20, 1962, the day President Kennedy announced the blockade on Cuba and nuclear confrontation with the USSR. Needless to say, tensions were high.
At first that day we were quite upset that Edward R. Murrow would not swear us in. Most of our group joined USIA in large part attracted to the Agency by Murrow – more than Kennedy.

Over the years Richard and I discovered a number of family connections and parallel experiences while growing up in the New York City area, which we always enjoyed sharing.

Richard was one of three or four “senior” officers in the class who were married and somewhat older than the rest of us. More settled, in some ways a little less rambunctious. Richard and Jacqueline were a handsome couple – he, dapper; she, vivacious and quite an accomplished cellist.

In class, he could be counted upon for perceptive and carefully considered comments – the hallmarks of his contribution to our profession, along with his geniality and care for his colleagues.

From the outset of our careers, I was impressed by how conversant Richard was in international affairs, already schooled through graduate studies at Columbia. A conversation with him almost 57 years ago – and as recently as a few months ago – would be engaging and lucid. He brought out the best in us, and I’m sure in his work abroad.

Richard’s career took him to Helsinki, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Toronto, and Valetta, and with extended service in Washington with ICS and as senior policy officer in the Voice of America. At the Voice, Richard’s expertise and depth of knowledge significantly helped the VOA policy office deal with contentious Middle East issues and U.S. policy.

In retirement, Richard became a mainstay for DACOR and continued to be an avid reader of three major papers daily.

I will miss him.

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