Talcott W. Seelye
Career Foreign Service Officer
It probably didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that Talcott W. Seelye ended up spending much of his adult life overseas and all of it in the foreign relations community. Seelye’s greatgrandfather, William Frederick Williams, went to the Ottoman Empire as a Congregational missionary in 1849, settling in Mosul, in what is now Iraq. William Nesbitt Chambers, his grandfather, also served in the Ottoman Empire where he lived through two Armenian massacres and risked his life to save Armenians. His father Laurens, was a professor at the American University of Beirut, in the city where Seelye was born.
After a boyhood in Lebanon, Seelye got his education in the U.S. where he graduated from Deerfield Academy and Amherst College. At Amherst he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, served as president of the student council, was captain of the varsity soccer team (making All-New England) and played varsity basketball. He received the award for the senior who in four years brought the most honor to Amherst athletics both in terms of achievement and sportsmanship.
He served in the Army during World War II, rising from private to captain. He was stationed in Iran with the Persian Gulf Command and in Italy with Allied Forces Headquarters.
After leaving the military, he became a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department serving for 32 years. His career took him to six Arab countries including Kuwait as Consul, Saudi Arabia as Charge d’Affaires, Tunisia as Ambassador, and Syria as Ambassador. In 1976 he was appointed Special Presidential Emissary to Lebanon after the assassination of the American Ambassador during the civil war.
He had three separate assignments in Washington D.C. One as Director of Arabian Peninsula Affairs, another as Director of North Arabian Affairs, and another as Deputy Assistant Secretary of African Affairs.
In 1963 he served with Ambassador Bunker in negotiating the end of the war between Egypt and Saudi Arabia over Yemen. In 1965 he received a personal Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of Defense for his service in Saudi Arabia in negotiating the first U.S.-Saudi arms agreement. He also headed the Jordan Task Force in 1970 for which he received a White House Commendation.
After retirement in 1981 Seelye established a Middle East consultancy entitled Talcott Seelye Associates. In addition, he is Director of International Research Services for a Boston firm, which has a number of corporate clients. In this connection he puts out a newsletter and conducts orientation trips to the Middle East for oil analysts, money managers and other American businessmen.
Seelye is a lecturer and writer on the Middle East. He has appeared frequently on national network television and radio shows including the Today Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, Nightwatch, MacNeil-Lehrer, 60 Minutes, Face the Nation, Crossfire, CNN News programs, the World Monitor Network, Fox TV and BBC.
He has served on three boards, including on the Amherst College Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1986. In 1974 he received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Amherst College and in 2000 an honorary Doctor of Public Service from Washington and Jefferson College. He is past President of the American-Tunisian Association.
Seelye is quick to point out that although he ended up becoming known in foreign relations circles for his service in the Middle East, that was not his original intent. “My boyhood in Lebanon was two thousand percent American. I resisted learning Arabic and had to learn it like any other Foreign Service officer,” he told Reporter Robert Kaplan for an article in Atlantic Monthly.
“I originally served in Germany, but there were too many German-speaking officers, so I went into Arab affairs only because the Middle East was opening up as a career. But given my family history, I suppose my relationship with the Arabs is atavistic.”
A member of SGS for more than 20 years, he has a fondness for family history and an interest in his ancestors. His great grandfather, Julius Seelye, served as President of Amherst after having served in Congress, and his great uncle Laurenus Clarke Seelye was the first President of Smith College.
“I believe strongly in tradition, and family history is an important part of that,” he said.
That strongly held belief in the importance of tradition and family history is one he shared with his own children.
“In my experience, family members are not that interested in genealogy until they get older. However, early exposure to some special aspects of family history may spark a later interest,” he said.
Seelye and his wife, the former Joan Hazeltine, reside in Bethesda, Md. They have four children: Lauren, Talcott, Amanda and Kate. Kate, has, in a way, continued in her father’s footsteps: she serves as a Middle East correspondent for National Public Radio.
Pages 7 & 14, Seeley Genealogical Society Newsletter, February 2004, by Paul Taylor.
[Great-great-grandson of Seth Seelye SGS # 2056 – Laurens; William; Julius; Seth; Nathan; Seth; Nathan; James; Nathaniel; Nathaniel; Robert]