Fred Coffey, an Appreciation

By Robert Chatten
USIA was just three years old in 1956 when it incorporated Fred Coffey into its junior officer training program which was to build a corps of public affairs specialists within the foreign affairs community. In August of 1953 the new Eisenhower Administration created the new agency to expand its international relations beyond State’s core focus on foreign governments. With State in the lead on Ike’s policies, foreign public opinion now could be factored into the conduct of U.S. relations abroad, recognizing that foreign audiences and the media and cultural institutions influencing them had a role in advancing U.S. interests abroad. The new agency’s cadre of young specialists (maximum age 32) did indeed grow into a senior professional core focused on foreign publics’ influence on their own and our interests.
Former Marine Fred Coffey was just the kind of person USIA leadership believed was needed in its junior officer training program: well educated, with overseas experience and at ease in another language and culture. USIA and Fred found each other in 1956. He was paneled and started at staff level 10. State, calling the shots, wasn’t ready to confer more status on a new category of officers, who advanced over the years through “staff” to “reserve” to “career reserve” to “Foreign Service Officer.”  Same officers; Same functions.
Frederick Aurelius Coffey Jr. was to retire in 1989 after 33 years in USIA with the personal rank of Minister-Counselor. He had distinguished himself with service in 
Post USIA, Fred became an election monitor in 12 countries. He was an early activist in the founding of the Public Diplomacy Association of America (PDAA) as successor to the USIA Alumni Assn.
He retired to Denton, TX, near the family farm down Coffey Road, depriving me of a regular tennis date with a dear friend and colleague. We met for lunch on a number of my family visits to Texas.
Bob Chatten was President of the USIA Alumni Association/Public Diplomacy Association of America.

Frederic Coffey Obituary

Frederic (Fred) Aurelius Coffey Jr left this life peacefully on February 28, 2024, surrounded by loving family. Fred courageously embraced a peaceful departure on his own terms, declining to undergo a high-risk surgery and a post-operative life that would have run contrary to the zest that was his gift to all who knew him. In celebrating his final hours, Fred enthusiastically joined the family in songs, laughter, strolls down memory lane, and finally, a rowdy toast to his remarkable life. The family would like to apologize to anyone in the ICU that night who may have thought they were in an Irish pub.

Fred's proud service to his country began as a US Marine, and continued through a long and distinguished career as a Diplomat in the US Foreign Service. With four children born in 3 continents, Fred and his beloved wife Jane always created a safe and loving family home wherever they served, including Brazil, Nicaragua, Thailand, Indonesia and Argentina. During rotations back to the US, Fred directed the Voice of America's Indonesia Division, and taught courses in diplomacy at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. Upon retirement from the Foreign Service, Fred and family moved back to McLean, Virginia, where Fred continued to pursue his passion for democratic ideals as an Election Monitor in 12 nations, through the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In 2014 Fred and Jane returned to his Texas roots in Denton, while maintaining his Washington connections and continuing his ardent advocacy for Public Diplomacy in US foreign policy.

Fred's many passions included: hotly debating international affairs with his Tertulia discussion group in Virginia; pounding the humid tennis courts of Bangkok and Jakarta until the evening mosquitos ran everyone off; hamming it up onstage at Constitution Hall with his zany Barbershop group, the Singing Capital Chorus; running/walking/limping across the finish lines at Marine Corps marathons; cherishing music and fellowship at the First Christian Church; Zooming with his Thursday Spanish Conversation Group; pumping iron (still going strong at 93!) at the Denton Senior Center; and watching the sun go down from the deck at the family farm in Aubrey, Texas, with 2 fingers of Maker's Mark if you please.

Born on April 21, 1930, in El Paso, Texas, to Dr. Fred A. Coffey Sr. and Sarah Verna (Cox) Coffey, Fred grew up in Denton, Ithaca, New York, and Asuncion, Paraguay. After studying at the University of North Texas for 2 years (where he was class president both years), Fred completed his Bachelor's in Economics at the University of Texas – Austin. Fred attained a Master's in Economics at Louisiana State University, under the GI bill.

Fred is survived by his children Frederic Aurelius (Kathy) Coffey III, Jeffrey Philip (Susanne) Coffey, Teresa Carol (Michael Doughten) Coffey, and William Patrick (Patricia) Coffey; and grandchildren Tate Besougloff, Logan Besougloff, Cooper Besougloff, Taz Coffey, Kavi Allard, Moschell Coffey, and Hamilton Coffey. All are welcome to share memories of a life full of compassion, tenacity, and "peace through understanding" at 2 p.m. Friday, May 17, at the Celebration of Life to be held at the First Christian Church of Denton. On Saturday, May 18, a private get-together will be held in Aubrey, TX, for family and close friends. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any gifts or donations be sent to Denton County Friends of the Family at []. Remembrances may be found and recorded on the funeral home website
Published by The Washington Post from Mar. 6 to Mar. 10, 2024.

From the February 2022 issue of Public Diplomacy Today

PDAA: The Early Years

From Fred Coffey:
G. Lewis Schmidt carried the ball in establishing the USIA Alumni Association in 1982 for the purpose of retired officers and USIA supporters to continue their professional friendships and promote Public Diplomacy in our foreign affairs. It quickly became an important source for researchers interested in our profession.
     I was privileged to serve on three boards of USIAAA and the Public Diplomacy Alumni Association. USIAAA held special seminars at the National War College and elsewhere drawing on folks like VOA’s John Chancellor and USIA directors. The goal was to hone USIA’s raison d’être for the current foreign affairs challenges. Former president Bob Chatten played an active role as he and others made an eight-piece video memorabilia for use in public diplomacy courses taught at universities throughout the country.
     USIAAA took a strong position against the deterioration of the public diplomacy program applied by the Department of State. President Mike Canning arranged for several of us to talk to the membership and note the 100 percent support for reorganizing the PD structure in State. 
     A later president, Gene Nojek, headed our push to change the name to Public Diplomacy Alumni Association and to modernize our tax situation, which had linked us to Virginia rather than the IRS. I spent a year dealing with IRS folks who finally agreed to make our tax status a 501( c )(3), a charity organization which could accept donations wthout taxation. I moved on, but the IRS sent the then current president a change of status to 501( c )(6) which put donations in a possible taxable situation. Our merger with the PDC’s status of C-3 will solve that issue.
     In 1993 USIAAA restored the annual prizes for the most demanding and effective programs and activities. USIS-Argentina was a winner. Ten years of targeted and planned activities supported a democratic state following the degrading rule of the generals. The basic aim was to keep the military in their barracks rather than government take-overs. Successful.
     Kathy Brion while president and afterwards steered USIAAA into developing this annual awards platform as continued by Rob Nevitt. PDAA benefits from this important activity.