Reminiscences, Founding Executive Director David Nalle

From The Washington Post 

David Nalle, Foreign Service officer and press fellowship director

David Nalle, a retired Foreign Service officer and founding executive director of what is now the Alfred Friendly Press Partners program, died Aug. 2 at the Washington Home and Community Hospices. He was 88.

The cause was complications from prostate cancer, said his son, David F. Nalle.

In 1951, Mr. Nalle joined what would become the U.S. Information Agency and worked initially in Kabul. His other overseas postings included Tehran and Mashhad, Iran; Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; and Moscow.

In Washington, Mr. Nalle was assistant director of USIA programs in North Africa, the Near East and South Asia. He retired from the organization in 1980 as deputy associate director.

From 1983 to 1992, Mr. Nalle was executive director of what was then known as the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships program, which brings international journalists into U.S. newsrooms. He was the Washington editor of the journal Central Asia Monitor from 1993 to 2002.

David Nalle was born in Philadelphia and received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Princeton University in 1948 after serving in the Navy. He received numerous professional honors for his work in government and Central Asian affairs.

He lived in the Washington area for more than six decades, with residences in the District and Chevy Chase.

His wife of two years, Jane Oliver Nalle, died in 1952. Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Margaret Shumaker Nalle of Washington; two children from his second marriage, David F. Nalle of Austin and Susan T. Nalle of Hoboken, N.J.; a sister; and two granddaughters.

— Stefanie Dazio


A Moses for the Friendly Fellowships

By Alfred Friendly Jr.

On the day after David Nalle died, a paid notice appeared in the Washington Post giving just his name, the dates of his birth (November 2, 1924) and death (August 2, 2013) and these few lines from the final scene of  Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”:

            “His life was gentle, and all the elements so mix’d in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’” 

The words, of course, are Mark Antony’s tribute to the dead Brutus, the “noblest Roman of them all.”  They do wonderfully sum up David’s inspiring life as someone who, like Brutus, acted consistently “in a general honest thought and common good to all”, and they capture, as well, the great scope of his talents and interests.

Still, I find it hard to think of David in Shakespearean or Roman terms.  To me, he was more nearly an Old Testament figure, possessed of the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the modesty which marked the original David as a youth when he “behaved himself wisely in all his ways … more wisely than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was much set by.”

As was David Nalle’s.  Susan Talalay, who followed him as executive director, remembers that as his assistant “I once answered a call for him from a gentleman at theCarterCenterwho said David had come so highly recommended that he felt he would be talking to Moses himself.”  

Moses only had a pharaoh and his armies as well as an unruly band of Israelites to contend with.  David had to cope with the whims of the Friendly family, the quirks of a score or more of newspaper hosts, and the needs of the first hundred-plus Friendly Fellows for guidance and reassurance  as well as occasional rescue.  Some of them were big-city cosmopolitans who could not understand how they had been sent to very small towns on very small papers or how to survive in such unfamiliar surroundings.  One actually fled back toCairo.  Another managed to disappear on a lost, boozy weekend with a football team from home, leaving David to deal with perplexed roommates, mentors and, almost but not quite, the police. 

In those and other seeming emergencies, I never saw David falter. In only one instance  do I recall that he agreed to cut our losses on a Fellow.  In that case her boyfriend was threatening that if she did not give up her affair with an underwear model and come home, he would come after her with a weapon.    

I vividly recall, though, one Fellow who had been enthusiastically endorsed by a press officer who gave more weight to the applicant’s political connections than his journalistic qualifications.  Having enlisted Susan to teach him to type, David took on the job of driving instructor.  He saw him through four unsuccessful road tests and a final, fifth, triumphant one.  He even found him a position as a reporter with a small, nurturing weekly paper.  And as in many, many other instances when Fellows needed help, David saw not insurmountable human weakness but cultural differences to be overcome with unstinting application and empathy.

He brought that attitude to his very distinguished career with the then United States Information Agency, earning not only USIA honors but also the 1978 Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy given by the Fletcher School of Tufts University.  David more than deserved that recognition.  As the man who transformed the Fellowships from an untried idea to a widely known and admired institution, he demonstrated all the integrity, grittiness and sensitivity that had earned Murrow his reputation in journalism.

David’s own reputation was as an expert in the cultures of Central Asia, an abiding love which he put aside for his time with the Press Fellowships but resumed, after his retirement, as guiding light of the Central Asia Monitor until it ceased publication in 2002.  The Monitor was created to draw attention to the neglected field of Central Asian studies, a cause close to David’s heart for all of his professional life. Happily, that work continues in the form of annual lectures the Friendly Foundation initiated at Georgetown University to honor David by providing a forum for young and mid-career scholars. 

We wanted the program to be named for David.  He insisted that it be named for Mir Ali Shah Nava’i, a 15th- Century Timurid writer and statesman credited with a major role in establishing Turkish as a literary language.  The result: 22 Nava’i-Nalle lecturers so far and many publications based on their work.

David always came to the lectures carrying an enlarged, mounted reproduction of a Persian miniature as a visual aid.  It depicted Mir Ali Shah surrounded by other luminaries of his time and culture, and I found it easy to imagine David sitting contentedly in their midst. I will always cherish a visual memory of David himself seated by a shelf in the Metropolitan Museum of Art using his own magnifying glass to inspect some of the glorious miniatures in its collection.  He looked a happy man.  As a scholar, a diplomat, a leader and, above all, as a friend, he made a great many of us happy as well.  

Alfred Friendly Jr. served as president of the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships from its inception in 1983 until 2003.


A Mentor with a Heart

By Susan Talalay

Many of my memories of David are based on our times in the AFPF office when his dry sense of humor made even the tenser times fun.  Truly a mentor to me, he had a wonderful ability to teach by example.  He guided me and all the Fellows in his kind, gentle manner all the while making sure we did what he expected.  His standards were high, and he structured the program and ran it with grace, charm, and complete integrity.  

My first assignment when I joined came as a note from him on top of a letter of inquiry: “Please write a non-hortatory response…”  I felt like I should leave on my first day as I had no clue what non-hortatory meant.  In time I learned that in his lexicon, the word meant diplomatic, sensitive, considerate of others.

David always made sure that we understood the cultural differences we were encountering with the Fellows and was instrumental in making cultural understanding a key element of the program. He once commented that after he left USIA, he thought he’d never have to write another rejection letter, but he took care to make sure applicants understood why they were being rejected.  

He had an uncanny way of sensing how the other person was feeling.  Coming into the office one day and noticing that I was a little less lively than usual, he suggested an outing to the newly opened museum of Women in the Arts.  He called it a necessary part of getting to know Washington so that I, in turn, could best introduce the city to the Fellows.  He just knew that it would be a better way to spend the day than in the office. Nothing was said outright; the twinkle in his eyes said it all.

Since both David and Peggy had studied Russian at the Polytechnic of Central London before David became the Public Affairs Officer in Moscow, and I had studied there just after high school,  we formed our own PCL American alumni association (a club of 3) and spent time over lunch attempting to speak only in Russian.  As a way to improve my language skills, we vied often over who remembered the most obscure words. The competition, though, was all part of the Nalle method of turning education into enjoyment.  He had many skills and interests, but for me, he will always be a teacher, the kindest and most imaginative I ever had.

Susan Talalay succeeded David Nalle as Executive Director in 1992. She is now a member of the board of the Alfred Friendly Foundation

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