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Richard W. Murphy speaks to students about his life in the Foreign Service

April 8, 2013

On Monday, April 8, Richard W. Murphy spoke to Madeira students in Huffington Library. The former U.S. Ambassador charmed the audience from the start by knowing that Madeira girls “finish in style.” (He knew this because he has been married to Madeira alumna, Ann Cooke Murphy since 1955).

He confessed that his favorite topic is the Middle East, and shared stories of his path to being a sought-after expert of Middle East issues. He told gathered students of first wanting to study anthropology, but choosing instead to study history and literature at Harvard to finally earning a degree in Anthropology from Cambridge, but being underwhelmed with his work. He joined the Army, and while serving, a buddy suggested they both take the State Department test. After passing the test, he first served in in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Determining he needed to specialize and learn a language, he chose Arabic due to the large number of countries and states where he could potentially be stationed as opposed to the more limited choices he would have had if he had learned Japanese, Chinese,  or other languages. He then spent a number of years in Beirut, Lebanon; Aleppo, Syria; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Amman, Jordan.

As Izzy Olson’13 highlighted in her introduction of Mr. Murphy, he served as Ambassador to several countries in the Middle East and also Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs under President Reagan. During that period he was particularly active in the Israeli-Arab peace process.

On the topic of the Arab Spring he reflected that, “Everyone knew it would change one day.” Now that citizens of the oppressed countries have risen up, Mr. Murphy stated we need to “be patient” as these countries define their futures.

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