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A Life in Service

A Life in Service

Ambassador Claude Gordon “Tony” Ross, 88

By Wayne Lewis
March 2006

Ambassador Claude Gordon “Tony” Ross (B.S., International Relations, ’39), 88, died Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C.
The first graduate of USC College’s School of International Relations to become an ambassador, Ross was a well-respected diplomat and witness to key world events during a three-decade career in the U.S. Foreign Service. Proficient in five languages, he held posts all over the globe, representing the U.S. to leaders ranging from despots like Haiti’s François “Papa Doc” Duvalier to more enlightened chief executives such as Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere.

“Tony Ross lived a life rich in accomplishment and the fulfillment of duty to his country,” said USC College Dean Joseph Aoun. “In all he did, he exemplified the essential Trojan value of service.”

Ross, born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, developed an early interest in foreign languages and the world outside the U.S. His childhood hobbies included drawing maps and collecting international stamps.

He received a scholarship to attend USC, studying under Claude Buss, the second director of the School of International Relations and a former Foreign Service officer. Ross graduated with a bachelor’s in foreign service, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

Of his experience at USC, Ross once said, “My education was excellent preparation for my career, and it gave me breadth of cultural knowledge … that I needed to pass the Foreign Service Exam.”

At USC Ross also met the love of his life, the former Antigone Andrea Peterson. The two married in 1940, and were together until her death in 2004.

Ross joined the Foreign Service in 1940, serving in Mexico City; Quito, Ecuador (where his first son Christopher W. S. Ross, was born); Athens, Greece, (where his son Geoffrey Faulkner Ross was born); and New Caledonia. In 1952 he returned stateside to take a post advising the American delegation to a United Nations committee.

Ross served next in Beirut, starting in late 1954, where he witnessed the religious and ethnic unrest that foreshadowed civil war. Subsequent assignments sent Ross to post-Suez Crisis Egypt and to Guinea. In 1962 he began a year-long stint in the U.S. as a deputy director in the Department of State.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Ross as the American ambassador to the Central African Republic in 1963. On New Year’s 1966 Ross witnessed a brief and relatively bloodless coup d’ètat, which shifted C.A.R.’s Cold War relations away from communist China.

Ross received his second ambassadorship in 1967, to represent the U.S. to the “Papa Doc” Duvalier government in Haiti. Of this assignment Ross once said, “I went out there with instructions to maintain correct but cool relations.… Papa Doc, for some reason, decided he liked me, and I always used to say, ‘God, I wonder what I’m doing wrong?’ ”

Tanzania was Ross’s next stop as an ambassador, in 1969. There he worked with President Julius Nyerere, who was renowned for his integrity and commitment to social justice.

In 1972 Ross ascended to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Relations with Idi Amin, the notorious Ugandan president, occupied much of the State Department’s attention during Ross’s tenure, with the U.S. ultimately withdrawing its delegation to Uganda.

Ross retired from the Foreign Service in 1974, but over the next 12 years performed numerous field inspections of embassies.

In 1986 he was awarded the Foreign Service Cup, “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the conduct of foreign relations in the United States.” Looking back on his career, Ross once said it had provided him “great adventure [and] … a great sense of pride in being able to serve my country.”

After his departure from the Foreign Service, Ross held leadership positions with the Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired, and the DACOR-Bacon House Foundation, twin organizations dedicated to furthering the mission of the Foreign Service. The foundation given close to $1.5 million in scholarships and fellowships since its inception, and USC students have been among its beneficiaries. DACOR posthumously recognized Ross with its Award for Exceptional Contributions.
According to Richard McKee, executive director of DACOR-Bacon House, “Ambassador Ross devoted himself to this organization. His real love was the education side. He was the absolute model of a gentleman, yet very kind at the same time, very warm. So he’ll be very much missed here.”

His son, Christopher Ross, has continued his father’s legacy, serving as U.S. ambassador to Algeria and to Syria before going on to senior State Department posts coordinating counterterrorism initiatives and Middle East relations.

Ross is survived by his sons, a sister and a grandson.