Temple won praise in diplomatic career
Shirley Temple got her first ambassador appointment after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger heard her discussing Namibia at a party and, in her words, was “surprised that I even knew the word”.
She would have to prove herself over and over during a time when few women got such posts, let along pretty former actresses.
But she earned the respect of colleagues and world leaders.
A Republican (she ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1967), she served in Richard Nixon’s administration as a member of the delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.
She later served president Gerald Ford as ambassador to Ghana.
During the administration of Ronald Reagan – her former co-star – she served as a State Department trainer. And in the first Bush administration, she was ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the historic days when the Iron Curtain fell.
“She is like a fresh breeze that has gently blown into our midst,” Saudi Arabian ambassador Jamil Baroody said in 1969. “After I heard her speak, I realised that Shirley Temple has not rested on her laurels as a child movie star. She has emerged as a sincere activist and an exponent of youth and its aspirations.”
The Associated Press reported from Accra, Ghana, in 1975 that the new ambassador discussed the economy in great detail and “startled the embassy pros” by turning up at her desk in a Ghanaian outfit of printed cotton headscarf and gown.
Temple also made a point of saying “welcome” and “thank you” in local languages and “delighted the ladies of the Market Women’s Association … embracing them as sister working girls”.
“The pose, charm and hard work that made her one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood in her childhood has won Uncle Sam unexpected box-office appeal in West Africa,” the AP reported at the time.
Temple said her interest in international work came after her brother George was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1952.
She became active in MS societies and helped found an international federation of MS groups. She said her United Nations service in the late 1960s made her more aware of the needs of the Third World.
“I felt right away that the superpowers always seemed to like talking to each other, and there weren’t enough countries talking to the developing countries,” she told the AP in 1975.