Friday, February 5, 2010

Back Then: Exuberant Elizabeth Colton

With experience that would make most ambassadors green with envy

In the November 2000 issue of State Magazine, then editor Paul Koscak had a feature story on four entry –level officers in the Foreign Service, "Excitement, Intrigue Attract Spirited Applicants."

One of those officers highlighted in the story is Elizabeth Colton. Yes, the one with a bullet-train career path in the Foreign Service for the last decade. And who last year, has taken the State Department to court for discrimination.  In September last year, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, together with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs filed a case on behalf of Dr. Elizabeth O. Colton, a 64-year-old Foreign Service officer whom the Department of State has “subjected to discrimination by denying her the opportunity to serve at certain posts simply because of her age.”  (Read Colton v. Clinton: Expeditionary Diplomat Booted Off Career Ladder, Too Old).
I don’t imagine that the magazine would invite her to grace its pages again. But back then, she was one of the Foreign Service newcomers who attracted the in-house magazine’s attention:
Then there's Elizabeth Colton. It's a good bet the Foreign Service gets few newcomers who have literally written the book on diplomacy, among others. Or someone who already has mingled with heads of state such as Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and Yasser Arafat.

The former college professor and network radio correspondent, who covered the American bombing raid on Tripoli and later the Persian Gulf War, says that her greatest desire has always been to be a diplomat.

"I've been teaching it all along," Ms. Colton, 55, says, exuding the enthusiasm more likely found in one of her students. "I hope my experience can be used." It's experience that would make most ambassadors green with envy.

Ms. Colton spent several years traveling the world employed by other countries to teach international politics and diplomacy to its diplomats. She also taught communications and journalism at Virginia's Shenandoah University. Her book on diplomacy is expected to be published soon.

Ms. Colton also worked as a journalist with firsthand experience abroad. She reported for Asia Week, a Reuters magazine, and was a London-based television producer for both NBC and ABC covering the Middle East and North Africa. In 1981, she won an Emmy for two ABC Nightly News pieces on Libya. Later she established Newsweek's Middle East bureau in Cairo. The Waterford, Va., resident's coverage of the Persian Gulf War prompted National Public Radio to offer her a job as its State Department correspondent.

Remember that group of Iraqi soldiers who surrendered to a journalist? You guessed it.

They gave up to NBC radio correspondent Liz Colton.

On the way to her new job, the FSI student also managed to become publisher for a company that owns 10 Northern Virginia newspapers and to teach journalism at Shenandoah University.

Choosing to become a Foreign Service officer at an age when many federal employees are retiring will present some challenges, Ms. Colton admits. "I'll be taking a major salary cut from what I made in teaching and speaking fees. I also have a house to sell."

Despite the financial setback, Ms. Colton is anxious--even exuberant--to begin consular work at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She expects to move on to the political section the second year.

"I'm just interested in a lot of things and I love learning," she says.

As of January this year, Elizabeth Colton is still posted at a consulate in Pakistan, another hardship assignment. The litigation is ongoing. 

Her return to Pakistan in 2009 made news. The return of Dr Elizabeth Colton, according to the Pakistan Observer: “[O]ne topic dominated the discussion. It was the return of the former US Press Attaché Dr. Elizabeth Colton to Pakistan as Principal Information Officer at the US Consulate in Karachi. Dr. Colton has been a very popular figure with the media. She was a proactive diplomat of extraordinary qualities.”

(Photo from State Magazine, November 2000) 

1 comment:

afia said...

I think it is mandatory for me to add " proud to know you' to my already existing feeling of 'delighted to know you' about Liz Colton............ and for the doubters.. haven't you ever heard, 'there are NO shortcuts to experience!'