A fluent Persian linguist, an authority on Iran, and a seasoned diplomat, Alan Eyre ’76 surprisingly allowed that he had never imagined such a career for himself in his days as a Middlesex student. In fact, he once viewed public service as “the flip side of fun” – something that “should” be done, “preferably by someone else,” he quipped.
Instead, over the course of 33 years working for the U.S. Government, Alan has found a fulfilling career that has immersed him in different cultures while demanding initiative and skill in challenging political conditions. Speaking as this year’s Bigelow lecturer on February 14, 2017, he shared his own “ESPN highlight reel” of his experience in public service and conveyed the effectiveness of humor, persistence, and perspective when dealing with complex international situations.
For Alan, the path to diplomacy was certainly an indirect one. On graduating from Dartmouth, he began with the personal motto of “No Steady Jobs for the ‘80s” – a theory that lasted until 1984, when he enlisted in the Army. After four years as a sergeant and then eight years as a civilian with the Defense Department, Alan joined the State Department as a foreign service officer in 1998.
Accompanied by his wife Anita, Alan was first given a less popular post in Abuja, Nigeria, where initially, he said, “Everything seemed strange and unpleasant.” In time, however, through new friends and experiences, he learned “a first great lesson” that has served him well ever since: “This too shall pass.”
He also discovered – amid volatile elections and transitions in a country foreign to him – an appealing profession. “Coming out of Abuja,” Alan reflected, “I’d realized I’d stumbled into a line of work that suited me perfectly: political officer.” He enjoyed learning the language and culture, talking with people to become better informed, and helping to shape U.S. policy.
From Nigeria, the Eyres went to Damascus, Syria, just as Bashar Assad was succeeding his father as president; while there, Alan also volunteered for temporary duty in Kabul, Afghanistan, after 9/11. With his subsequent post to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, he was assigned to full-time reporting on nearby Iran, and this would become a major professional focus for him. After several temporary assignments in Iraq and three years as an energy officer in Baku, Azerbaijan, Alan returned to working on Iran issues – particularly the status of its nuclear program – while posted in Dubai and London.
The stories of his experiences along the way, some humorous and others more sobering, clearly showed his enthusiasm for embracing different languages and cultures, and this sincere engagement has undoubtedly made a difference in his work. Recognized for his knowledge of Iran, Alan served from 2010 to 2016 as the State Department’s first Persian language spokesperson; in this role, he explained U.S. policy to Persian-language media and became known to many through his regular Internet video feature, “Ask Alan.” Additionally, from 2009 to 2015, he was a member of the U.S. Government team involved in the nuclear negotiations with Iran that led to the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement.
Summing up remarkable accomplishments rather modestly, Alan observed that he has been able to “unite my avocation and my vocation…where love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakes,” quoting from the poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” by Robert Frost. “That is, at best, what I think public service can be,” Alan concluded, “and what it has been for me.”
Bigelow Lecturer Alan Eyre '76