PORTLAND – Laurence E. Pope died on Oct. 31, 2020 with dignity as he had wished, at his home in Portland with his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” and two daughters at his side. He was 75 and the cause was pancreatic cancer.
Larry, a career Foreign Service officer for three decades, was posted to Vietnam, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Bahrain and Chad, where he served as ambassador. In the State Department he served as Director of Northern Gulf Affairs (Iran and Iraq), Associate Director of Counter Terrorism and political advisor to General Anthony C. Zinni, Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command in Tampa. He was a recipient of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service.
Larry’s colleagues recalled his diplomatic talent, personal courage, scholarship and ability to think deeply and solve problems — all of which made him a natural leader. “I tried hard to get my country to do the right thing,” he once said. He believed strongly in public service and in national and international government institutions which he lamented had suffered in recent years. In his last book, The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two Cheers for Striped Pants, he argued for more diplomacy in the information age to avert needless wars.
In 2000, Larry’s presidential nomination to be ambassador to Kuwait was blocked because he refused to betray General Zinni, who had publicly ridiculed the misguided effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Rather than wait for another posting, Larry resigned from the State Department. He and Betsy packed their bags and headed north, singing Schooner Fare’s “Portland Bound.” They never regretted their decision, every year growing fonder of the Forest City, where they found a circle of life-long friends and the kindest neighbors whose love and support (and soup, muffins and porch visits) helped them bear the unbearable these last few months.
Following his resignation, Larry was soon in demand as a consultant for the military and other organizations. He was a regular on Maine Public Radio’s “Maine Calling”, contributing keen insights on world affairs. As a second career, Larry became a “scholar-diplomat”, writing François de Callières “A Political Life”, the first biography of the man considered a leading theorist of diplomacy. His research led to friendships in the U.S. and Europe with other academics specializing in ancient régime France.
Besides annual trips to Paris, Larry and Betsy also traveled to India, China, Japan , Europe and the Caribbean to hike, bird-watch and visit friends.
A graduate of Bowdoin College, Larry’s classmates and fellow Beta Theta Pi brothers remember him as passionate, intelligent and eager to debate justice, aesthetics, music and the Red Sox. “At Bowdoin, you filled every room you ever walked into,” one fraternity brother told Larry before he died. Bemused by these recollections, Larry remembered himself as a lackadaisical student and the bane of his professors, one of whom accused him of being a dilettante. “Yes,” he replied, “From the Latin, ‘to love and cherish’”.
Larry spent his junior year in Paris at the Sorbonne, the beginning of a long love affair with the City of Light. He spoke French like a native, and later became one of the State Department’s top Arabists.
Other passions were bird-watching, Proust, the Mark Trail comic strip, the Red Sox, the Book of Common Prayer, George Brassens’ chansons and Jean Redpath’s Scottish ballads, which he sang to his daughters and grandchildren in a lovely tenor voice. His conversation was peppered with Latin tags and obscure historical references from his deep reading in the classics, history, philosophy and literature. The day before he died, he quoted Socrates’ last words: “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius; pay it and don’t forget.”
Maine has long been a place of refuge for the Pope family and no place more so than Larry’s beloved New Portland farm. Dressed in his “greens” and shabby jeans, he would canoe down Lemon Stream twice a day, spotting warblers and casting a fly in search of wild brook trout.
Apart from the farm, Larry’s greatest loves were his family: his wife of nearly 44 years, Elizabeth “Betsy” and his two daughters, Eleanor Pope of Sunnyside, N.Y. and Elizabeth Pope of Portland. “They are my legacy,” he once said. His sons-in-law, Patrick Clark of New York and Samuel Rich of Portland, were “lads for windy weather”, he said providing limitless love, solace and support at the end of Larry’s life. Above all, he doted on his four grandchildren, Anna and Marcus Clark and Theodore and Isaac Rich. In addition, Larry is survived by his beloved brother, Ralph Pope and his wife, Jean, of Arrowsic and Fernandina Beach, Fla.
Larry grew up in Braintree, Mass., the son of Eleanor and Everett Parker Pope, a banker and recipient of the Medal of Honor for gallantry in the Pacific. Although Larry never faced bullets in battle like his father, he met his cancer diagnosis with courage. “There are worse things in life than having time to prepare for death,” he told friends.
The family wishes to thank the team of Drs. Phyllidia Ku-Ruth, Matt Dugan and most especially Mark Wrona for their skill and compassion during Larry’s illness. Thanks also to Chuck Lakin and Val Lovelace for their invaluable advice on Maine’s Death with Dignity law, as well as Carol Schoneberg of Hospice of Southern Maine for her wise counseling of the Pope family.
A Zoom memorial is planned in coming weeks, a fitting farewell for an early adopter of technology.
Larry asked that contributions be made in his name to two organizations that have enriched his grandchildren’s lives as well as others: