Life is for Foreign Service

September 01, 2014

By Daniel Paulling ’08

After 38 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, Rust Deming ’64 now teaches at John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

Bill Clinton needed an answer.

The day before his 1998 trip to Tokyo, the president sought his Cabinet’s advice on how to discuss Japan’s stagnant economy with the country’s leaders. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright turned to Rust Deming ’64 and asked if he had any ideas.

“I didn’t expect to speak,” says Deming, who was the United States’ principal deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the time. “But I thought, ‘What the hell? How many times do you get to do this?’”

His 10-minute presentation suggested the approach that President Clinton might take in Japan to encourage its leaders to take the steps necessary to address the country’s economic problems. This led to a discussion with the president and members of his economic team, and the president asked Deming to accompany him to Japan on Air Force One the next morning, where the debate continued.

This was just one moment of many during Deming’s 38-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

The political science major credits his time at Rollins for providing him the educational foundation and the maturity needed to succeed. “I came into Rollins fairly shy,” he says. “By the time I came out of Rollins, I was much less introverted, much more self-confident than when I went in.”

After graduating, Deming began his climb up the Foreign Service ladder.
His first assignment was at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia in October 1966, where he managed about 40 pieces of U.S.-owned property during his first six months. One responsibility was assigning crews to repair the heating systems that inevitably broke during the winter.

“That was one of the most valuable jobs I had in the Foreign Service,” Deming says. “It really put a lot of pressure on me to learn how to manage different day-to-day issues. I learned an awful lot about managing people from different backgrounds.”

His next assignment—providing U.S. visas to Tunisians and assisting Americans living in Tunisia—wasn’t much more glamorous.

In 1967, an American citizen died in Tunisia, and Deming quickly learned that Arab nations do not embalm the dead. The corpse was delivered to the embassy’s parking lot one hot summer weekend. After contemplating how to handle the situation, Deming sent the corpse to Italy for embalming and then to the family in the U.S. “It was one of the longest weekends I spent in the Foreign Service,” he says.

After his two-year appointment in Tunisia, he went to Japan, a country he loves and visits multiple times a year. He worked with Japanese leaders, pushing them to support U.S. policy, and assisted the 50,000 American soldiers based there. In 2000, more than 30 years after his first tour, Deming returned to Tunisia as an ambassador where he served for three years.

He retired in 2004.

His wife believes that Deming, who learned French and Japanese during his time with the Foreign Service, was successful because of his trustworthiness.

“Establishing trust in relationships between officials is essential,” says Kristen Bracewell Deming ’62. “Rusty has a good analytic mind, strength of character, discretion, and good judgment.”

As a result of his success in the Foreign Service, Deming returned to academia in 2005. He teaches at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

“Some of my colleagues, when they retire from the Foreign Service, they leave the world entirely,” Deming says. “They go and open a bed and breakfast in Maine or do something completely unrelated to the Foreign Service, something they’ve always wanted to do. I never had that breadth of interest to do other things.”

Deming’s father, Olcott Hawthorne Deming ’35 ’94H, also served in the Foreign Service, setting a family precedent. The family spent three years in Thailand and three years in Japan before moving back to the U.S. when Deming was 12. By the time he graduated from high school, he had attended 12 schools.

“Somewhere along the line, I missed fourth grade,” Deming says. “Whatever one learns in fourth grade, I never learned.” Seeking warm weather and following in his parents’ footsteps (his mother, Louise MacPherson Deming ’37, also graduated from Rollins), Deming was drawn to the College, where he wrote for The Sandspur and participated in intramural sports.

“Everything worked out very well,” Deming says. “I was lucky enough to go to a school that really did help prepare me to get into a career that I really enjoyed and was able to be successful in.”

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