Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project
AMBASSADOR ROBERT E. BARBOUR
Interviewed by: Charles Stuart Kennedy
Initial interview date: November 30, 1992
Copyright 1998 ADST
[Note: This transcript was not edited by Ambassador Barbour.]
Q: Could you give me information about yourself? When and where you were born, a bit about your upbringing and education.
BARBOUR: I was born in Lakewood, Ohio, in December of 1927, but moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when I was eight years old. My formation is really southern. I went to grammar school, junior high school, high school, in Memphis, Tennessee, and then to the University of Tennessee. So despite my accent I am at heart really a southerner.
In the summer of 1943 I read a book called Diplomatically Speaking, by a man named Lloyd C. Griscom, which convinced me that the only thing I ever wanted to do in life was to be in the United States Foreign Service. Although there were some shadings of that resolve, that determination and interest persisted; and it is in fact true that I have never wanted to be anything other than a Foreign Service officer. That made life much easier than it otherwise might have been as a student because, among my schoolmates, I always had a clear fix on what I wanted at a time when most of them were floundering around and had an interest, you might say the opposite of mine, to make money. I wanted to be in the Foreign Service, and have been very lucky in that sense to have had a career that has spanned forty-two years.
Q: You graduated from the University of Tennessee when?
BARBOUR: In December of 1948, then came to Washington and enrolled in George Washington University to fill in a lot of gaps that I knew I had in my education. I went to school at night and got a job working as a researcher, which was a file clerk of sorts, in the Passport Division in the Winder (?) building. Though there is no plaque on it today, it was in fact the Union Army headquarters during the Civil War. I guess when I worked there in 1949 it still bore some resemblance to the building of that time. It was the end of the telegraph line and was where Lincoln used to go to read the incoming messages. That made it fun.