The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Mary Yates Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

May 15, 2014


“The Sprawling Life of a Career Diplomat”  May 15, 2014  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Yates discusses her upbringing in Portland and her undergraduate years at Oregon State University, including her memories of sorority life, her academic progression, and the emergence of both her interest in travel and in public service. She then recounts her move to the East Coast, her graduate work in Asian Studies at New York University, and her experience of taking the Foreign Service Exam.

The majority of the session focuses on Yates' numerous diplomatic posts, first in South Korea, and followed by the Philippines, Zaire, Burundi, Ghana, Europe and the United States. In providing an overview of the time that she spent in these positions, Yates also shares her recollections of the political situation that she encountered from country to country, including a people's revolution in the Philippines and the genocide being carried out in Rwanda, neighboring country to Zaire.

Yates also provides a glimpse into the logistics of life as a diplomat, including her memories of attempting to communicate by telephone with her husband, himself a member of the foreign service who regularly lived on a different continent. Yates likewise discusses numerous additional components of an ambassador's world, including learning how to negotiate, diplomatic communications, security details, and multiple individuals who made an impact on her career. The interview concludes with an account of Yates' time working in the Obama White House, her hopes for the future of Africa, and her enthusiasm for developments at OSU.