Cotton Fields To Summits chronicles the path of the author from the cotton fields of South Carolina at the age of eight through a career in the American Foreign Service to the summitry of international diplomacy in the mid-1990s.
George Kennedy recounts the choices and the decisions that shaped his experiences in Bonn, Brussels, Paris, and Rome from the Kennedy assassination in 1963 through the implementation of NAFTA during an assignment as the American Consul General in Toronto in 1996. And there were assignments in Manila during the Vietnam buildup and in Pusan, South Korea during the turbulent years of the Carter presidency.
Kennedy identifies his “Chorus of Angels”; figures in his life who individually and collectively guided him through an unlikely career during which he experienced the fist-pumping highs of success and the disappointments of temporary setbacks. Kennedy learned four languages (Italian, French, German, and Korean); lived in seven countries (Italy twice, Germany, France, Belgium, Korea, the Philippines, and Canada) and traveled to a dozen others.
He had been a participant in, or an official witness to, significant historical events, several of which defined and shaped the latter half of the twentieth century: the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 while on military duty in northern Italy; the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy while assigned to the American Embassy in Bonn, Germany and the impact of the President’s death on the German people; the build-up to America’s involvement in the
Vietnam War in 1965 during his tour in the Philippines; a witness to Secretary Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy that frequently brought him to Rome while Kissinger negotiated the end of the Vietnam War in 1973; President Ford’s visit to Rome in 1975; President Reagan’s historic visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France in 1985 while assigned to the American Mission to the European Communities in Brussels; and the French Bicentennial in 1989 while assigned to our Mission to the OECD in Paris. During his assignments at the State Department in Washington, DC, there were other events: the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the fall of Communism, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989; and Nelson Mandela’s history making visit to the Department of State in 1990 while serving as a deputy assistant secretary of state. Also, while serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Kennedy represented the Department of State during the White House planning sessions leading to the Gulf War in 1991.
A highlight of his career was to serve as a senior advisor to Ronald H. Brown, the first African-American Secretary of Commerce in our nation’s history.
The arc of Kennedy’s career spanned more than three decades for a total of 35 years and, in 1996, he felt it was time to go. Kennedy was comfortable with the prospect that he could now reclaim the balance of his life.