FRANKFORT — There could not have been a more fitting job for Robert “Ted” Curran than a career as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Affairs Service.
“He was a people person,” said Marcia (Mattson) Curran, his wife. “He really had a sort of sixth sense about how other people were feeling and where they were coming from.”
Curran died in his sleep July 10. He was 87.
His work took him to posts in Germany, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Mexico, Afghanistan and Morocco, as well as in Washington, D.C., where he worked to make the world a better place.
Curran lived in Frankfort for the last 16 years, but was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Curran joined the U.S. Foreign Affairs Service as a public affairs officer after earning a master’s degree in Russian history.
He retired in 1984 as a career minister, the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service.
During his career Curran rubbed elbows with some interesting people, perhaps himself becoming a part of history in the process.
In 1981 when the Iran Hostage Crisis ended after 444 days, Curran traveled to Algeria with President Jimmy Carter to pick up the American hostages. He played host to Louis Armstrong when Armstrong visited Germany. He escorted “Lady Bird” Johnson through the Montreal World Expo. And he welcomed the Apollo 11 crew to Mexico City during their 1969 Presidential Goodwill Tour.
Curran once got help changing a flat tire from the bodyguard of Jordan’s King Hussein while in the Jericho Valley, took Henry Kissinger on a tour of Afghanistan and played a midnight round of golf with the King of Morocco.
Marcia met Curran in graduate school at Columbia University, where they were both studying international affairs. They married in 1956 and Marcia accompanied him to all his posts.
“At that time spouses were actually rated on their husband’s efficiency reports,” Marcia said. “We were expected to participate in events that happened and to entertain.”
It was a different time back then, she said, recalling that they were paid less than $5,000 per year in those early days.
Curran is survived by his two daughters — the first of which was born in Beirut, Lebanon — four grandchildren and many other family members.
As an adult Curran became a member of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. He believed wholeheartedly in the Quaker philosophy that people have an inner light and they need to learn how to listen to it, Marcia said.
He himself had an inner light that shone through in everything he did, she said.
“He cared a lot about the world and how it solved its problems and he wanted to be a part of that solution,” Marcia said. “He never said ‘no’ to anybody unless, of course, it was illegal.”
He was also a kind and gentle man, she said.
“I never heard him swear in 62 years. Oh, maybe that one time when the paint can fell off the ladder.”
He also cared about the environment and climate change. Their home has 20 solar panels and they’ve had an electric car for the last seven years.
After retirement Curran became active in several organizations, including the former Michigan Land Use Institute, now the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities; FLOW (For Love of Water); the International Affairs Forum; and Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital.
Curran was also a founding board member of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Glen Chown, executive director of the Conservancy, said Curran had a tremendous ability to connect people, as well as a passion for the Conservancy’s mission.
“He was a big picture kind of guy,” Chown said. “He could see the long view. Those same skills you have when you’re a diplomat serve you well when you’re an ambassador for an organization, especially a new one.
“He leaves an important legacy for the region.”
A memorial service will be held for Curran at 2 p.m. Aug. 23 at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Beulah.