By Mark Taplin, Former Public Diplomacy Fellow, George Washington University
In 2010, while I was assigned to George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs as a State Department Public Diplomacy Fellow, I had the good fortune to conduct an on-camera interview with Dr. Walter R. Roberts – a U.S. diplomat, broadcaster and scholar who lived a long, extraordinary life in public diplomacy.
The interview, which took place over two sessions in February and April of that year, was done under the auspices of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication (IPDGC), with the support of the university’s Documentary Center. The interview clips are now available on IPDGC’s YouTube channel.
Dr. Roberts first came to the U.S. in 1939 as a graduate student and refugee from his native Austria. He began his career at the Voice of America, at the very outset of the U.S. government’s wartime information effort. At the end of World War II, Walter transferred to the State Department’s Austria desk before joining the newly organized U.S. Information Agency in 1953. He served at USIA with distinction over two decades, occupying a number of senior posts in Washington as well as in Yugoslavia where he worked as U.S. Ambassador George F. Kennan’s public affairs counselor.
After his retirement from federal service, Dr. Roberts taught public diplomacy at George Washington University’s Elliott School, in what was certainly one of the first U.S. university courses devoted to the study of international information programs. He was a prolific writer throughout his life – on international broadcasting, on diplomacy, on Yugoslavia and on many other topics – and created a fund that supports the study of public diplomacy, the Walter R. Roberts Endowment.
Dr. Roberts passed away in June 2014, at 97, remarkably lucid and insightful to the very end. His seventy-some years of professional involvement in the field of public diplomacy were unprecedented; accordingly, his recollections and observations are particularly valuable to scholars and practitioners alike.