Politics & Government

Ambassador who served under 8 U.S. presidents dies in SLO at age 92

In this March 28, 1984, file photo, Ambassador Harry Shlaudeman, right, special envoy to Central America, meets with President Reagan in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Shlaudeman died in San Luis Obispo on Dec. 5.
In this March 28, 1984, file photo, Ambassador Harry Shlaudeman, right, special envoy to Central America, meets with President Reagan in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Shlaudeman died in San Luis Obispo on Dec. 5. AP

Harry Shlaudeman, a respected ambassador known to his peers as the “quintessential American diplomat of his era,” died last week in San Luis Obispo following nearly four decades in the Foreign Service.

Shlaudeman, 92, was a native Californian who rose to the highest levels of the U.S. State Department during some of the most tumultuous years of United States-Latin American relations.

He served through eight presidential administrations, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with George H.W. Bush. Shlaudeman also worked closely with numerous well-known diplomats, including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

John Maisto, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Nicaragua and the Organization of the American States, referred to Shlaudeman as having “the highest respect of all who worked with him, Americans and foreigners alike.”

“Tall, spare in style and in speech, but always succinctly to the point, he was, in all situations, the solid, dependable, unflappable American diplomat,” Maisto wrote in an email.

Marine veteran and Stanford grad

Shlaudeman was born in 1926 in Los Angeles, served in the U.S. Marines during World War II and graduated from Stanford University in 1952. Shlaudeman was recruited to the Foreign Service in the 1950s and was sent to Barranquilla, Colombia, for his first assignment in the consular office in 1955.

During the following decades, he was the United States’ ambassador to Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Nicaragua. He also served stints as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs and ambassador-at-large and special envoy for Central America.

In honor of his service, President Bush awarded Shlaudeman the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 — late-night talk show host Johnny Carson and actress Audrey Hepburn received their medals at the same ceremony.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, right, chairman of President Reagans Bipartisan Commission on Central America, and its executive director, Harry W. Shlaudeman, preside over a meeting of the commission at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 1983. The group is slated to make a final report to the President next Wednesday. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma) Barry Thumma AP

In a 1993 oral history Shlaudeman gave to the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, he described his involvement in pivotal foreign policy events — from the Falklands War to negotiations with Nicaraguan Contras.

Donald Planty, former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, served under Shlaudeman in Santiago, Chile, in the 1970s. Planty described Shlaudeman as “a role model for me and many others, the very epitome of what a U.S. diplomat should be.”

“Harry was the consummate diplomat in Chile and throughout his career — knowledgeable, principled and smooth as silk,” Planty wrote in an email. “He was a professional’s professional — always prepared, showing impeccable judgment and highly respected by his colleagues in the diplomatic service and his Latin American friends.”

Retirement in SLO

Shlaudeman and his wife, Carol, moved to San Luis Obispo in 1998, six years into his retirement. His son, Karl Shlaudeman, said his parents’ time on the Central Coast was the longest they had lived in one place for many years.

Harry Shlaudeman, an avid golf fan, lived near the 18th fairway of the San Luis Obispo Country Club. He remained involved in foreign policy discussions even after his retirement, taking part in a University of Virginia Falklands War roundtable discussion in 2003.

Karl Shlaudeman — who was born in Colombia during his family’s time there — described his father as an intellectual, a voracious reader and a big football fan.

“For about 12 or 13 years after he moved to SLO it was golf, golf, golf and the new friends that he made playing a game for which he had a lifelong passion,” his son wrote in an email. “His golfing friendships spanned decades and multiple continents and he was actually really good at it.”

Even after Harry Shlaudeman could no longer play golf, he’d go to the nearby club for an evening martini nearly every day, his son wrote.

Harry Shlaudeman is survived by three children — Karl, Katherine and Harry — and two grandchildren.

Any donations should be made to the Senior Living Foundation of the American Foreign Service at slfoundation.org.

Related stories from McClatchy DC

Lindsey Holden writes about housing, immigration and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She also covers northern San Luis Obispo County city governments and school districts. Lindsey joined The Tribune in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. She’s a native Californian raised in the Midwest and is a proud graduate of two Chicago schools: DePaul University and Northwestern University.