Barry Zorthian, public diplomacy legend, passes away at 90

imageA legendary member of the old guard of public diplomacy passed away December 30 at the age of 90. Barry Zorthian, seen at right at the 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium, had a long career in the service of the United States and the media. I’m honored to have known Barry over the past two years.

Barry was born in Turkey in 1920. Emigrating with his family to the US, he graduated from Yale University in 1941 and joined the US Marine Corps, serving as an artillery officer in the Pacific Theater. After the war, Barry worked at CBS Radio in New York and earned a law degree from New York University. He also worked for the Voice of America for 13 years with Voice of America, first as a reporter, then an editor and finally as program manager.

In 1964, after three years in India for the State Department as a deputy public affairs officer. Back then, the public affairs officers worked for the United States Information Agency (or Service as it was known outside the US). Edward R. Murrow, as USIA Director and thus Barry’s boss, asked Barry to head the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office in Vietnam. Barry would say this was the first (and largest ever) joint State and Defense public affairs office. According to Barry, to get around the concern based on Smith-Mundt that the USIA should not be speaking to the US public, Barry was transferred to the State Department and USIA reimbursed State for his pay.

Barry Barry retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Colonel in 1973, served as Vice President of Time Inc. (now Time Warner) and served on the Board for International Broadcasting with jurisdiction over Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

In July 2010, his wife Margaret Aylaian Zorthian, died. They had been married for 62 years. Barry is survived by two sons, Greg and Steve.

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