Remembering Ambassador Joseph Melrose ’66
Ambassador Melrose recently served as the Acting U.S. Representative for Management and Reform at the United States Mission to the United Nations, and as a Senior Area Advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the 61st, 62nd and 63rd U.N. General Assemblies. He served as acting representative for management and reform at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
He is perhaps best known for serving as the Ambassador to Sierra Leone during its civil war where he brokered a peace treaty and is credited with turning its future around. During his stay there, the American embassy was severely damaged, and he and his staff flew to the embassy every day by helicopter from Guinea. He served as the Ambassador to Sierra Leone from 1998 to 2001 during its troubles, helping to broker the Lome Peace Accord, that brought an end to hostilities. During a second evacuation, he remained in Sierra Leone with a lone staffer. Through it all he was able to secure humanitarian aid for the country and negotiate peace, as well as, helping to create the Special Court for Sierra Leone to try those most responsible for the devastating human rights violations that occurred. During his Ambassadorship, Madeleine Albright made the first visit to Sierra Leone by an American Secretary of State.
Zainab Hawa Bangura,Under-Secretary General and Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict at the United Nations, was brought by Ambassador Melrose to be the 2014 Ursinus Commencement speaker. She says, “I think I will remember and appreciate him most during the war years in Sierra Leone. We were all against peace. We hated the rebels so much because of the atrocities they had and continue to commit. Joe told me that making peace with them was the only way we can put an end to the blood shed. You make peace only with your enemies so you can have a breathing space to rebuild your life. He knew the rebels did not have the capacity to government and will not survive in an open democratic system. But by continuing the war, we are giving the rebels a legitimacy that they do not deserve. We reluctantly made peace and today we are all so happy we listened to him.”
A Pennsylvania native, Ambassador Melrose graduated from Ursinus in 1966 and taught in Philadelphia and Cheltenham while studying for a master’s degree at Temple University. He joined the Foreign Service in 1969, with his first overseas assignments to Vietnam and Syria. Ambassador Melrose was serving as Consul General in Karachi, Pakistan when President Zia and U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphel died in a plane crash and during the start of its third democratic era. He was Deputy Chief of Mission in Lagos, Nigeria, from 1995 to 1998, during a time of great change and the start of its democratic transition. Ambassador Melrose also held a wide range of domestic positions, including Executive Director of the Political-Military and Near East and South Asia Bureaus, and he was Vice President of the American Foreign Service Association.
Ambassador Melrose was instrumental in uncovering the connection between the illicit trade in diamonds and armed conflict. He helped to establish the first certification programs for diamonds, which evolved into today’s Kimberley Process and has worked to ensure that blood-diamonds do not enter the retail stream. Testifying before Congress, on the issues surrounding conflict diamonds, he stated that, “The customer should be able to know that the diamond he or she purchased did not get to the retail counter by increasing the suffering of fellow human beings.”
In addition to his diplomatic and negotiating skills, Ambassador Melrose was renowned at the State Department for his hands-on ability to solve problems, and was sometimes referred to as “Mr. Fixit.” He led the Foreign Emergency Support Team that deployed to Nairobi, Kenya, following the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings, where he helped oversee the reestablishment of Embassy operations and the recovery effort. He also played roles in the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut after terrorist attacks there in 1983, as well as the evacuation of U.S. diplomatic personnel following unsuccessful attacks on the Karachi consulate during the first Gulf War.
Upon leaving Sierra Leone in September 2001, he served as coordinator for the State Department’s post-September 11th Task Force. When asked how he had been so often selected to function as a diplomatic repairman, Ambassador Melrose said during a 2012 interview that he had gained his expertise from frequently “being in the wrong places at the wrong time.”
Ambassador Melrose retired from the U.S. Department of State in 2002, after three decades in the Foreign Service and fulfilled a lifelong dream of returning to Ursinus to give back that spirit of service which set him on his path.
Following his retirement, Ambassador Melrose was called upon to serve as an advisor on a wide range of diplomatic projects. He became a Senior Consultant in the Office of the Secretary of State’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism and served as the Acting U.S. Representative for Management and Reform to the United Nations at the United States Mission. In late 2006, he became a Senior Advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the 61st U.N. General Assembly, continuing this role in the 62nd and 63rd assemblies. In 2008, he was a Senior Consultant to the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone studying transition plans for the Court, bringing his role full circle.
Most recently, following the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, the Accountability Review Board recommended that the Department re-examine the organization and Management of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, with a particular emphasis on span of control for security policy planning for overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities. The Department convened a panel of experts, and Ambassador Melrose served as the vice chair of this panel.
Ambassador Melrose also used his diplomatic skills and problem-solving abilities in a variety of charitable endeavors, never forgetting that every human being, no matter their rank, age or capacity was worthwhile. When he was assigned to Pakistan, he helped establish the Special Olympics there, accompanying the team to its first international competition, the now-annual Donkey Cart Race in Karachi and a Boy Scouts of America Troop. He was a volunteer consultant for the International Medical Corps, which included traveling to Iraq in 2003, a board member of Restless Development (formerly Students Partnership Worldwide), an organization which pairs international students with local national volunteers to work with other young people, teaching HIV/AIDS awareness, food security, and public health, and a former Cubmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster of historic Pack/Troop 52.
Ambassador Melrose was an active board member and served, from 2005-8, as President of the National Collegiate Conference Association, sponsor of the National Model United Nations, doubling its size during his tenure and starting its international expansion while bringing his uniquely pragmatic viewpoint to a broader range of students.
A member of DACOR (Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired), the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, and the Liberian Studies Association he also served, as a former President, on the Advisory Board of The Speaker’s House, Inc., a non-profit organization founded to restore the Trappe, Pennsylvania home of the first Speaker of the U.S. House, Frederick Muhlenberg.
Among the awards Ambassador Melrose received are the H. Lloyd Jones Award for distinguished advising and mentoring, an honorary degree in Democratic and Human Rights Studies from Hilla University in Iraq, the Department of State’s Distinguished Honor Award, the Secretary of State’s Career Achievement Award, the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, an honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree from Ursinus College, and honorary Doctorate of Humanities by Francis Marion University in South Carolina, the Department of State Group Distinguished Honor Award, the Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America, the Award of Merit from the World Islamic Federation and the Foreign Service Cup.
In addition to his illustrious career on the global stage, Ambassador Melrose provided a spectacular link for Ursinus students who were given first-hand lectures by leaders in the fields of human rights and diplomacy, including humanitarian John Prendergast, former Ambassador Richard W. Murphy, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, Syria, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia, and many others.
His death especially saddened the many students he mentored and connected with service organizations around the world. During his 12 years on the Ursinus faculty, he was devoted to the political science and international relations students at Ursinus.
Colleague Houghton Kane, recently retired Professor of Politics and International Relations, reflects, “I have never seen anyone better able to bring his ‘real life’ experience and contacts into his work as a professor. His office was next to mine. An almost unending stream of students flowed in and out of his office, mixing in with U.S. and foreign diplomats who Joe had invited to campus to visit his classes and to speak to all-campus meetings.”
His former classmate and colleague James Baer ’66 said from the day they met in 1962 it was clear that Melrose was a gentleman and a patriot. “He was a scholar and a first- class human being,” says Baer. “Joe was a leader at Ursinus, first as a student who revitalized the international relations club bringing a sense of importance to this new field. He was a great teacher, better friend and even better mentor for all of us who had the privilege to know him.”
Among the courses he taught was “International Organizations and Diplomacy,” which emphasizes functions of the U.N. He led the Ursinus Model U.N. delegation annually, and was former President of Board of Directors of the National Collegiate Conference Association, sponsors of the Model UN. He helped to initiate the first international Model U.N., which was held in China in 2008. He called the experience “invaluable,” because the conference helps students learn how to think critically and then express their thoughts verbally to gain confidence in public speaking.
He was also generous with his time off campus. He recently spoke at Conrad Weiser High School in Berks County, Pa., about his career as a foreign diplomat, discussing the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, human trafficking, blood diamonds, international democracy and other issues. He was invited to speak at the high school by his former student, global studies teacher, Jullien Searfoss ’05. He told the students that a career in international relations comes with some inherent risks, but there are a lot of opportunities to help people.
Ambassador Melrose was honored with an honorary degree from Francis Marion University, one of South Carolina’s 13 public, coeducational universities. He also holds an honorary degree in Democratic and Human Rights Studies from Hilla University in Iraq, and an honorary Doctor of Laws from Ursinus.
We lost one of the best yesterday…. rest in peace Prof. Joseph Melrose. You impacted more people than you can ever know, and will be sorely missed. Thank you for all you did for me and the rest of your students.
–Lauren Melton-Muqattash, Alumna
Joe Melrose was not only an amazing professor but also a wonderful mentor. He cared deeply about every individual. He helped me through many crisis and made me in to the person I am today. I can confidently say if it wasn’t for Joe I would not have graduated and done well.
–Ammar Vohra, Alumnus
Joe, It was such an honor to meet you. You were an inspiration to us all. We will miss you.
–Paula Alvarez Tames, Faculty/Staff
Ambassador Melrose was an inspiration to all who knew him. His loss will be felt throughout the world. May he forever be remembered. Here’s to you, Joe.
-Morgan Lyndall, Alumnus
Joe was an inspiration to everyone who worked with him and knew him. He was devoted to his students and worked tirelessly to improve the world. His insight, humor, intelligence and kindness will be remembered and his work goes on in all those he taught.
-Kate Campbell, Staff
“Ambassador Joe” always remained the same “Joe” that he was as an Ursinus classmate fifty years ago: gracious, kind, generous with his time and unfailingly good-humored. His untimely passing leaves a great void.
-Ross Doughty, College friend (UC Class of 1968) and faculty colleague
Joe Melrose was a fantastic professor and an amazing mentor. I looked to him for many different things. He even took time out of his busy schedule to speak to my students about the UN and being an ambassador. Thank you, professor Melrose, for everything. May you RIP. You will missed.
-Jullien Searfoss, Alumnus
Prof. Melrose was one of the best professors I have ever had and mentor. He was dedicated to his students and believed in each and every one of them. He was always there whenever I needed help with anything. He was a professor, mentor, and friend, and will be incredibly missed.
-Amanda Blohm, Bard College, Alumnus
Very saddened to hear of Prof. Melrose’s passing. He was an inspiration to the international relations students, and a kind, patient and generous professor. Thank you Prof. Melrose, you were a positive and powerful influence in our lives.
-D. Sarmento, Alumna
Mere titles of leader, mentor, and humanitarian fall short of describing Professor Melrose. He was one of the few, rare people who walked the walk of his convictions. He believed in education, and thus dedicated his time as teacher and mentor. He believed in the intrinsic value of every human being, and tirelessly sought to ensure human rights. Professor Melrose rejected the egocentrism and ethnocentrism so common in our society, and instead embraced an abiding compassion for humanity. His respect, empathy, and professional efforts crossed boundaries of color, class, politics, and nationality. The world has lost a great leader, and I have lost a mentor and friend.
-Rev. Leslie Kearney, Alumna
It was near this time 11 years ago that I got a call on my dorm phone from Ambassador Joe Melrose. He had called to tell me that a Peanuts special was on TV since he knew I was fond of Snoopy and the gang. It is true that Joe (as he insisted his students call him) introduced me to the endlessly fascinating African continent and that he was instrumental in guiding me toward a career I love. Yet it is these moments of kindness, sincerity, and down-to-earth friendship that I remember the most. I will miss him.
I am a proud alumni of Ursinus, even prouder former student of Ambassador Melrose. He was a an amazing advisor and he will be missed. I have fond memories of class, model U.N. many after class discussions.
-Melanie brown, Alumni
Joe, you will be truly missed. You were a great professor, advisor, mentor, and friend. RIP.
-David Chamberlain, Alumnus
It was clear how much Joe cared about his students - they were the number one priority, and he would move mountains to help us. I just want him to know how much it was appreciated, and that we’ll still be trying to make him proud.
-Stephanie Breitsman, Alumna
I was given the opportunity to relay my experiences in Afghanistan while deployed to that country with the US military. During my last tour in Afghanistan I was assigned to work as a liaison officer to the ministries of Commerce, Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank of Afghanistan. Ambassador Melrose invited me to speak to the Ursinus International Club. I was most happy and honored to do so. It was an experience I will never forget. I am sorry to hear of his passing and offer my condolences to his family.
-Alvin J Banker Jr, Alumnus
I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my mentor and friend, Amb. Joe Melrose. I was very lucky to have him as an advisor throughout my four years at Ursinus, where he helped deepen my interest in foreign affairs and set me on my current career path. Joe had a deep impact on those around him, whether at Ursinus or through the foreign service, because he cared for others and went the extra mile for them. Like others, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without his guidance. I’ll be forever grateful for the lasting impact he had on my life. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and everyone else that was close to Joe.
-Ryan Costello, Alumnus
Joe Melrose was my freshman academic adviser. He was an amazing person with so many stories. I had some great conversations, and he was so kind to me. He will truly be missed.
-Hannah E., Student
Due to my transfer I did not have the opportunity to take any classes with Melrose… An opportunity that I regret missing. Rest in Peace Ambassador.
-Doran Tucker, Former student
I can’t think of anyone else who surpassed my service to the department in the area of international politics and student outreach iin this area. And he was a wonderful friend, always hospitabie to me and so devoted to Ursinus.
-Nicholas Berry, Professor of Politics emeritus, friend
I first met Joe as a prospective student - I sat in on his negotiations class and learned about the Model UN Program. After that visit, I knew that I wanted to go to UC, but what I didn’t know was how he would have a profound impact on me. He encouraged me to try new things, to develop mutual respect for others, to take every opportunity as a learning experience, and to explore the world for all its worth. Most of all, he believed in me. He embodied what Ursinus should continue to strive to be – extraordinary, genuine,truly inspirational, and transformative. I am forever grateful of him to share his life with the world.
-Jessica McIlhenny, Alumna and friend
This tragedy is a loss to the world. I was privileged to work with Joe in Sierra Leone. He had an outstanding character, he stood up for what he believed in against lots of criticism and he was proved right. He was not a person to gossip but held confidences, he shared his knowledge and loved well. His son, daughter-in-law and beloved granddaughter, and students were the light of his life, he talked about them all the time. Joe had a great sense of humor and was always there to share a laugh. I was lucky enough to be invited to address his students. Joe and I shared work, travel and adventures. He is sorely missed. Joe’s energy was boundless, we all share in the grief and wish him a well deserved rest.
-Terry Leary, Friend
I will remember Joe as a wonderful colleague. I so appreciated having a fellow Africanist just down the hall. He was always globetrotting doing very important work, but was still very down-to-earth, gracious, and kind. He put our students first; there was never a moment when he did not have time for them, and he went out of his way to create opportunities for them that would otherwise have been out of reach. He did amazing things to help our students who are interested in Africa find ways to pursue those interests. He will be terribly missed.
-Gina Oboler, Professor of Anthropology, Ursinus College
I first met Ambassador Joe Melrose at a STAND meeting where he introduced himself as “Joe.” I had no idea that he was an Ambassador or had such outstanding credentials. Ambassador Melrose invited the new STAND members and executive board to his house for dinner. It was at that dinner my freshmen year, I learned just how special Joe truly was and I learned that we would forever be friends. At dinner, he insisted that I call him “Joe,” but I insisted I would call him Ambassador Melrose. Four years later at graduation, we laughed about this and I called him “Joe” for the first time in my college career. With every encounter, Joe encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone. Joe was not only a great academic support as he advised my honors project and summer fellows, he supported me through life circumstances. Joe encouraged me to take my first Amtrack ride and go into NYC, in fact he even rode by my side because I was scared to go alone. He helped to have the opportunity to speak in the Senate and meet individuals at the UN about my honors project. He helped STAND to organize major campus events that were one of a kind such as Emmanuel Jal and John Prendergast. Most importantly, Joe helped me to establish some of my best friendships at Ursinus. I know I am not the only student that Joe did all these things for, actually Joe went out of his way to push every student to be the best they could be. He genuinely believed in each student at Ursinus and he made the experience an extraordinary one. I wish I could I show him the outpouring of love that his students are sending on social media and thank him for everything. But, as he told me at graduation, this is not goodbye, this is “see you later.” My thoughts and prayers are with his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, who he loved immensely.
-Audra Lins, Alumnus, friend
Ambassador Melrose was not only my mentor, but singularly responsible for my entire life trajectory to date (which since I’ve known him, means the majority of the last decade spent in the international development field in West Africa and the Middle East). He always remembered my love of postcards and would never miss an opportunity to share one from his many travels to add to my collection. Joseph Melrose showed me that human relationships are the cornerstone of why we are here, that global citizenry is equal parts giving and receiving, and that having a real impact means being equally changed by an experience. And, perhaps most importantly, no matter how high you go, the most impressive thing you can do is remain a totally likable and relatable human being while doing so. I’ll miss you always.
-Nickie Sene (Tamny), Alumnus
Joe will forever live on in the hearts and minds of the countless students he inspired and shaped. We can never repay him for all that he has done for us. Rest in peace my friend.
-Nick Smart, USMC, Alumnus and Friend
A man of ideas, ideals and action, plus a fine sense of humor which is also needed in diplomacy.
-Tex Harris, Friend and Foreign Service Colleague
Ambassador Melrose, or as we all called him, Joe, was one of a kind. Funny, intelligent, and a hard worker. I had heard so much about him prior to taking his Human rights topics class my junior year, and even before taking that class had he taken me under his wing. Joe was so interesting, always having a story pertaining to his time as an Ambassador to Sierra Leone or time in the UN, and always knowing cool and important people to introduce our classes to. He never took crap from anyone, and always tried to make us all better students, whether by taking time to chat with us or trying to find us internships and post-grad opportunities. All in all, he was one of the most incredible people I have crossed paths with, and I will miss him dearly. Without Joe, I wouldn’t be the student and person I am today.
-Emily Cooper, Student
Joe was a friend and fraternity brother during our years at Ursinus. I remember him for his honesty, integrity and sincere friendship. The last several years as I attended Alumni Weekend and Homecoming Joe and I would get together to discuss old times and what he was doing for the students at Ursinus today. His integrity and values have never changed. He has been a real asset for Ursinus and will be sorely missed.
-Paul Winters, Classmate Ursinus class of 1966, Fraternity brothers Ursinus Delta Pi Sigma Fraternity
Although I did not have the privilege of working with Ambassador Melrose as a diplomat, when I retired from the U.S. Foreign Service a couple of years ago and moved to the Collegeville area, where my husband grew up, Joe was a wonderful support in my first teaching job as an adjunct lecturer in the Ursinus College Department of Business and Economics (Spring 2013). By inviting me to talk to his students about my own experiences in Africa and recommending me as an expert witness to asylum seekers from the continent, Joe showed me how to make a difference in this new phase of my life. He represented the best traditions of American diplomacyand higher education.
-Carol Kalin, U.S. Foreign Service (Retired), Ursinus Faculty (2013), University of Pennsylvania
joe was day student and we drove each other to ursinus since we both lived in springfield twp montgomery county. many discussions inour cars. JOE WAS A GOOD MAN. IF thats all we say about the departed then he was a true gentelman. RIP Joe
-Brian Kron, Class of 1967 and delta pi sigma
Such a patriot, intelligent diplomat. I am so saddened to hear of this major American diplomatic loss of Ambassador Joe Melrose. I will remember his humor, intelligence, humanity, and gentle spirit of diplomacy. You will be missed Ambassador. You will always be in our hearts with your light and spirit. Thank you for being with us for a handful of days.
-Adrienne Lesnick, Friend, colleague
Joe and I were professional friends for many years. We were both assigned to Pakistan during the 1990s and later we shared common experience of being UN Ambassadors for Management Reform. He was a true gentleman. His colleagues enjoyed working with him and respected his talents emensely. His passing will leave a hole in our tapestry of life. Don Hays
-Donald S. Hays, Department of State
We had a geology class together—I was never surprised to hear what he was doing in the world or on campus—light to your path, Joe
-Rev. JeffrieAnn Hall Edgell, Alumna ’67
Amb. Melrose was a great supporter of AFSA and contributed much to the organization and to the FS. He will be missed. May he rest in peace.
-Ian Houston, Executive Director AFSA
Before Joe Melrose was an amazing professor mentor he was a humanitarian of the first order. We met on a hot and dusty summer day in Hilla Iraq in 2003. He had traveled to Iraq to assist the Iraqi people when most aid workers had not yet found their way to Iraq. Without any assistance from any government, Joe and a staff of one made it to Hilla, Iraq using street smarts and a smile. Frankly, when I first met him, I was too busy attempting to get the universities, police and utilities working again to listen but his calm and commanding way made me stop, listen and work with him. I made introductions to local Iraqis and Joe did the rest. We stayed in touch since that time; and with my family visited him in Ursinus. There we saw the wonderful interaction between this wonderful man and his students. During this time he convinced me to assist him with getting Iraqi students to the US to participate in Model UN events. I will miss you very much, you were a great mentor and friend during trying times.
-Christopher Herndon, friend
I first met Joe when I was a freshman and we had to wear our dinks during my first semester. I remember that Joe was the head of the group of upper classmen who herded us men freshmen around the campus. I was sorry to hear about Joe’s passing. I remember talking to him at my ’68 class 45th reunion. I always liked Joe. He will be missed.
-Tom Cassano, Alumnus
In the years since I came to Ursinus in September, 2010, Joe and I would talk regularly in Bomberger on Monday nights, when we both taught. I’d plop down in his office, or just hang in the doorway. Five minutes would become ten minutes, and ten minutes would become twenty minutes, and twenty minutes would become a half hour as we exchanged top-of-the-head thoughts on the news of the week–sometimes somberly, other times laughing at some new absurdity on the world stage. We’d particularly enjoy tweaking each other about the latest follies involving journalists and diplomats–can’t remember a week when we didn’t have enough to talk about! Joe was a wonderful guy–smart, savvy, wry, humane and wise in the ways of the world–including the dangerous world he brilliantly survived. Many Ursinus students and alumni here have spoken movingly of his contributions to their lives. He also made many brave contributions to the United States. It breaks my heart to think that he suffered his fatal blow in a Collegeville parking lot. but Joe would have been the first to appreciate the irony. Rest in peace, pal–you earned it many times over.
-Carlin Romano, Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Ursinus College
My interactions with Joe shaped not only my college experience but who I am today. Many of my greatest classes, college memories, and post-college ideas came from conversations with him. Joe was always there to talk, share ideas, and encourage me. Thank you for all you did for me, my friends, and all your students. We will all miss you Joe, rest in peace.
-Brian K, US Navy, Student & Friend
Ambassador Melrose has positively touched so many lives! He will be dearly missed! May his would rest in peace and may his family, including the very extended family he had adopted from his great work, mentoring, friendships , always find solace and comfort in the memory of his life and the legacy he leaves behind! As an American Sierra Leonean - I thank and salute Ambassador Joe. Our nations have lost a great man!
-Josephine Garnem, Friend
I can say that, without a doubt, Professor Melrose was a wonderful person, who did so much for many individuals in this world and left an amazing legacy behind. He led a very admirable life and really influenced so many people. Ambassador Melrose really left a positive impact on my life, especially during my senior year at Ursinus. He was my professor for a Human Rights class, during fall semester of that year. I remember this course fondly, as we discussed the various humanitarian and social justice issues in the world. Professor Melrose imparted his knowledge and experience to us, and from this, I learned so much from him. We also connected through women’s rights’ issues, with which I was involved with on campus. Ambassador Melrose was integral in helping myself and other students plan awareness events for this issue. He also often passed on helpful information to me regarding this topic. Professor Melrose, you will truly be missed by all.
-Jessica DeVaul, Alumna