“On Our 50th Wedding Anniversary” by Rocky Suddarth

Hi Gang: I thought you might like to read the remarks below that I gave at our 50th anniversary lunch. Tersh: Please share with Darcy.


To our beloved family:

We have several stories to tell today.

The big–and first– one is celebrating 50 years of marriage between Michele and me.

It is an improbable story: a young man from Tennessee falls in love with a beautiful French girl; they meet and marry in Bamako, Mali, in West Africa, and move to Beirut, Lebanon to learn Arabic in the Foreign Service where Anne and Mark are born.

The second story involves Michele. Can you imagine the character and imagination that it took to marry a foreigner, adopt American citizenship, have two children in the space of two years, become immersed in perfecting her finishing school English and embarking on an intensive course in Arabic and in learning the ways of the Foreign Service and her role there as the spouse of an American diplomat! All that while setting up an apartment and learning to run a diplomatic household and cook! It was to be a career that involved 28 household moves, two evacuations (the Yemeni Civil War in 1967 and the Arab-Israeli War in 1967) and a wrenching coup d’état by revolutionaries in Libya in 1969).

The third story involves Rocky. He brought to the marriage a love of excitement and exotic foreign travel which Michele very much shared. Their posts evoke these stories: Mali, Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Washington, Cambridge, Mass., Jordan, Washington, Saudi Arabia and finally Jordan again. They were united by their curiosity about living among foreign cultures and most of all by their love of America and their willingness to dedicate themselves to promoting the values and interests of the United States. Rocky’s career had its moments: being attacked and held hostage in Taiz, Yemen during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; being part of the Kissinger shuttle diplomacy in Jordan during and after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, orchestrating President Nixon’s visit to Jordan in 1974 the Camp David Accords in 1979 that brought major peace. Service in Washington involved dealing with the major shock of Lt. Qathafi’s Libyan Coup, evacuating Wheelus Air Force Base 1969, and in confronting the Iranian Revolution and Hostage crisis. Our Saudi positing involved trying to stop the Lebanese Civil War, and multiple crises between Saudi Arabia and Iran, plus, stopping Qadhafi from putting explosive mines in the Red Sea! Back in Washington, Rocky, as head of parts of the State Department for the Middle East, tried to promote Arab-Israeli negotiations, faced US airline highjackings in Egypt and Pakistan and fielded visits to President Reagan by the leaders of Israel, Jordan and Egypt. He was chosen to be Ambassador to Syria but the Syrian Government was caught trying to blow up an Israeli El Al airliner in London so our ambassadorship to Syria was withdrawn, sanctions imposed on Syria ; so Rocky never got to Syria. Instead, he was named Ambassador to Jordan where he and Michele continued their great friendship with the remarkable King Hussein and their many great Jordanian friends. The assignment was bittersweet–mainly because of Michele’s cancer– but she soldiered on valiantly. At work, we came close but failed to open further Arab-Israeli negotiations. Then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1990 attacked Kuwait and brought on the US-Iraqi War just as Rocky was terminating his assignment in Jordan. There are other stories but you can read them in the Oral History of the Department of State–Roscoe Suddarth–Library of Congress. One final strange but stressful episode involved prosecuting, as Acting Inspector General of the State Department, some people for trying illegally to get into the passport file of Bill Clinton before his election as president in 1992.

The fourth story is about Anne and Mark. They were such an essential part of our lives it is hard to sum it up: love and life together for all those years, and continuing. In brief, I think that their growing up overseas, in an American embassy and in and among exotic cultures, has made them even more flexible and resourceful and with great curiosity about the world around them. It has given them a sophistication that comes with that territory–from learning French and about the French in particular but also about Middle East cultures and politics. The stint of two years at boarding school and later university in the US, and travel back and forth to posts abroad tested their resourcefulness and self-reliance. We also think it rubbed off on their own children.

The fifth story is about big Max. To bring him together at this time with his great grandchildren is a major objective of this visit. My parents died before they could meet Anne and Mark, so Max and Amelia took an even more special place in their lives and hearts. Long vacations with them, alone sometimes, and with us in France, particularly as youngsters in Le Vesinet, were a magical time, made even easier because it was a short hop from the Middle East. All this is to say how important all this was to us all and with no limit on the time, kindness and generosity of Max and Amelia.

Big Max is a genuine hero for me and a truly remarkable person. My biggest regret is that the language barrier prevents our non-English speakers from fully appreciating his qualities of heart, his brilliant intelligence and his deep learning. You would all love his stories, modestly and reluctantly told, of his experience as a young artillery officer in World War II when he escaped twice from prisoner of war camps and then joined the French Resistance against the German occupation. You all know the special place he has in our hearts and our admiration for the strong character he shows in his retirement–at 96 years approaching!

Our sixth story is about David and Cheri. Simply put, they are the best spouses and sons and daughters in-laws one could ever imagine. We are deeply grateful that Anne and Mark were so lucky. It is a great pleasure for us to be with them and share in their great and sincere hospitality.

Our last story–mercifully–is about our grandchildren, Ryan, Sarah, Adam, and Max. You have enriched our lives beyond measure and our only regret is that distance keeps us from seeing you much more. We see in you qualities of strong character, seriousness of purpose, and brilliance and inventiveness–and you are so much fun to be around! We hope you will visit us often. In closing though, we feel the future–in you–is in great hands. We could not be prouder.


My reply 1.25.13

I have now had a chance to read and reflect on your beautiful summary. When one tries to put 50 years on paper for the benefit of one’s family, it is impossible to do more than you have done: with feeling, clarity, warmth, humor, pride. But the words pale before the real flesh and blood person. I feel so lucky and enriched to have played a small part in your and Michele’s wonderful lives…and look forward to all of us being together for many more days and months and years.

Friendship Lasts,

Tersh Boasberg