US diplomat with a passionate interest in music and theatre

 

BOB CHALKER: Bob Chalker, who died on January 2nd, aged 88, was for many years an outstanding personality in the American community in Ireland following his term as a senior diplomat at the United States embassy in Dublin.

After his retirement from the US Foreign Service in 1968, he decided to live in Ireland and became executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce where he played an important role in strengthening trade and investment links between Ireland and the US until his retirement in 1995.

He was also active in Dublin Rotary and was a former president.

With his trademark bow tie, vintage Mercedes and outgoing personality, Chalker was a popular figure in artistic as well as business circles. He had a passionate interest in music and theatre. His second wife was the well-known lead singer in musical societies, Louise Studley.

His many friends noticed that he rarely talked about himself and the interesting life he had led in various foreign postings before he was appointed to Dublin as counsellor and deputy head of mission in 1964.

Robert Phelps Chalker was born in Linden, Alabama, on March 16th, 1914. His father was a Methodist minister.

The young Chalker embarked on an educational career which took him far from the small town in the Deep South where he spent his early years. At the prestigious Duke University he studied for his BA and MA. Then he went to Germany in 1936 and studied at Heidelberg.

During this time he was able to study at first hand the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler and witness the persecution of Jewish friends. He also studied at the University of Chicago and the Sorbonne in Paris and taught in schools in Florida before joining the Foreign Service.

His first posting was to the embassy on Unter den Linden in Berlin in September 1939 just as the second World War was breaking out. As the US was neutral until the end of 1941, Chalker was able to mingle freely in wartime Berlin and have contacts with prominent Nazi officials including Rudolf Hess.

One of his more pleasant duties was to keep contact with and a friendly eye on the British novelist, P.G. Wodehouse, interned when the Germans invaded France and later brought to Germany. Wodehouse got into trouble in Britain for making several wartime broadcasts, but this did not deter Chalker from forming a friendship with him and his wife which lasted many years.

Following the American declaration of war on Germany, Chalker and other diplomatic staff were interned in a hotel at Bad Neuheim while waiting for an exchange with German diplomats in the US.

Chalker later described to a friend how he decided to escape from internment in a coffin being transported to Switzerland. From there he travelled across France with the help of the Resistance and ended up in neutral Lisbon where he served briefly as US vice-consul.

He was then sent to England where he served as vice-consul in Birmingham 1942-44 and then as consul and secretary at the embassy in London in 1944-48. While there he worked for Averell Harriman, who was dealing with security matters which included neutral Ireland.

After the war, Chalker served in in Germany, India, the Netherlands and Japan.

It was while he was in London that he met Edna Wood, who was then playing a juvenile lead in a West End show, Sweet and Low. They were married in 1946 and had two children, Janet and Jeffrey, who were born in Dusseldorf. Edna died in 1985.

In 1964 Chalker was posted to Dublin for what was to be his last diplomatic assignment. As deputy head of mission, he served as acting ambassador for almost a year while waiting for the arrival of Raymond Guest. He was also responsible for the purchase of the fine house fronting the Grand Canal on Mespil Road which has been used by his successors ever since.

During his term as executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce, he helped to set up the council linking the other chambers in European countries and travelled widely for this work. A colleague recalls how the former diplomat spent a night in an East Berlin jail because he had mislaid his passport after a marathon farewell concert by Herbert von Karajan.

In 1990 he married Louise Studley. He is survived by her, his children, Janet and Jeffrey, and stepchildren, Bryan, Sari and Melanie.

Robert Chalker: born March 16th, 1914; died Januay 2nd, 2003