Wednesday, 30 November 2016 17:26
Remembering Frederick Irving, Class of 1960
Ambassador Frederick Irving of Amherst, MA, 95, died peacefully surrounded by family on November 13, 2016.
To his 30 year public service career, as in all his endeavors, Fred brought his deep personal commitment to equal opportunity and treatment for all people and to peaceful conflict resolution.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Frederick was the sixth and youngest child of Rebecca Lerner, an immigrant from Bessarabia, Russia and Philip Irving, an immigrant from Romania. His father died when Fred was four years old and Rebecca kept the family together by taking in piecework. Fred attended Classical High School while working full time in a soda shop. In the 10th grade at Classical Fred met the love of his life, Dorothy Petrie, to whom he remained devoted to the end of his days. Fred continued to work 40 hours per week while attending Brown University and competing on the fencing team.
Following in the footsteps of his four older brothers, Fred joined the US Army Air Corps immediately upon graduation from Brown in 1943. His photographic memory led to an assignment as the navigator on a B-24 bomber crew based in Italy. On his 37th mission Fred's plane was shot down over Hungary. He credited the Tuskegee Airmen with saving his life as they circled the plane until the crew could bail out. Fred was captured by Hungarian partisans, turned over to the German Army and interned in Stalag Luft III, the site of the "Great Escape." He was liberated by Patton's Army - two of his brothers among them - in May 1945 and received several military honors, including the Purple Heart, for his bravery.
After recovery at Walter Reed Army Hospital Fred attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University on the GI Bill. There he met his lifelong best friend, Harish Mahindra of India, who served as the best man at his long-delayed marriage to high school sweetheart, Dorothy.
In an interview with the Fletcher Alumni Magazine Fred explained that having experienced the horrors of war firsthand he felt compelled to dedicate his life to preventing it. He entered federal government service as an economist at the Bureau of the Budget under President Truman whom he credited for teaching him how to communicate clearly and succinctly. In 1951 he moved to the U.S. Foreign Service. He held positions in Fiscal, Economic, Political, Military, Scientific and Cultural Affairs in Austria and New Zealand as well as in Washington, D.C. His career was marked by a skilled commitment to building bridges across cultures. He created the People-to-People programs at the State Dept. and arranged the first exchange between Chinese and U.S. athletes known as "Ping Pong" diplomacy.
He served as U.S. Ambassador to Iceland from 1972- 1976 and U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica from 1977-1978. Fred always acknowledged Dorothy's critical, if unpaid, role in forging and maintaining personal and professional ties that supported U.S. interests abroad. Upon retiring from the U.S. State Department Fred joined the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He also travelled widely with Dorothy on consulting missions for the United States, served as an Ombudsman for the Massachusetts Council on the Elderly, delivered meals on wheels, maintained a home in Belmont, Ma, a cabin in Bridgton, ME, and a sugarbush in Vermont.
He often talked to school groups and civic organizations about his experience as a Prisoner of War, his efforts in the U.S. Foreign Service to promote peaceful solutions to inevitable disagreements, and the need for all Americans to ensure that the freedoms, justice and prosperity that we enjoy in the United Sates are available to all people equally within and outside its borders. Interviews with Fred are archived at the Library of Congress, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the Yiddish Book Center.
Fred's beloved wife of 64 years predeceased him in 2010. He leaves three children: Susan J. Irving (Joseph) of Washington, D.C., Richard Frederick Irving (Gitte) of Winchester, MA, and Barbara J. Irving (Lindsay) of Amherst, MA, eight grandchildren, one great- grandchild and innumerable treasured friends and admirers. Ambassador Irving will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston, MA or to the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL.
Obituary Courtesy of Legacy.
Published in Farewell Salute