In Memoriam: Marilyn Janet Holmes

Marilyn Holmes, a member of AAFSW for almost 25 years, was an award-winning documentary producer for the U.S. Department of State and a former Director of the State Department’s Family Liaison Office. She died on Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 at Georgetown University Hospital. She was 82.

Marilyn was born in Paris in 1934. In 1940, when German troops invaded France, seven-year old Marilyn and her mother fled Paris in a mass exodus of French citizens. After an arduous journey, they finally reached Lisbon where they were able to secure safe passage on one of the last ships to leave for the United States.

After spending her formative years in France and the United States, Marilyn became deeply involved in educational and cultural exchange. She worked for the former USIA in Cambodia, and subsequently produced documentaries in the 1950s that told the story of newly emerging African states that had successfully formed viable governments in the wake of colonial rule.

In 1959, Marilyn married a newly commissioned U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Allen Holmes. Their first post was Yaounde, Cameroon, where Marilyn completed her documentary projects and began her life in the Foreign Service. From their earliest posts in sub-Saharan Africa to later service in France, Italy and Portugal, Marilyn always felt a deep concern about the welfare of her Foreign Service colleagues as she helped them adjust to life overseas.

Without the AAFSW, there would be no Family Liaison Office (FLO). After gathering supporting information through a worldwide survey, AAFSW successfully presented the concept of the FLO to then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1977. When the Office first opened in 1978, its first job was to illustrate how it would respond to concerns about education, employment, evacuations, family emergencies and divorce. At that juncture, the office needed a director who could consolidate what had already been accomplished in the first two years, establish it more firmly in the bureaucracy, and move on to untried initiatives. Marilyn’s extensive experience made her the ideal choice to become Director of the FLO in 1980.

Drawing on her creativity and pioneering spirit, Marilyn introduced many firsts. One of her major achievements was negotiating reciprocal work agreements with foreign governments to allow Foreign Service spouses to work in their countries. Another early concern was to establish FLO’s international presence by setting up small satellite offices (Community Liaison Offices – CLOs) at posts abroad. She arranged for a former FLO staff member in Bonn, Germany to visit the embassies in Moscow, Sofia and Warsaw to explain how to start a CLO at post and what benefits to morale might result. It was the first time anyone had ever travelled to post to talk with senior management exclusively about quality of life issues affecting Mission staff and family members. In an initiative to bolster morale, Marilyn worked with the Bonn CLO to gather the CLOs in Iron Curtain countries together in Bonn, to discuss what worked and did not work at post. Thus was born the first CLO Conference. There have been hundreds since.

Marilyn also understood that there was more to leading the FLO than outreach to the Foreign Service population alone. With a view to establishing the Office in the State Department bureaucracy, she made sure that the FLO staff had formal job descriptions that were classified at the appropriate level. Since the FLO represented a totally new function in the Department, establishing the FLO bureaucratically was a major challenge that Marilyn overcame superbly.

Nowhere was Marilyn’s creativity more in evidence than in her production of more than a dozen videotapes, which she initiated as FLO Director and continued after leaving the position, eventually becoming Executive Director of the State Department’s Video Production Unit. Marilyn saw these videos as teaching tools, and as a means of reaching out to the far-flung Foreign Service population in a practical and cost-effective way. Many of the videos came with workbooks. This was a new and creative way for State to educate its employees and family members overseas.

Some of the videos were produced in a FLO Mental Health Series—“Personal Stress Management,” “Adolescents Abroad” and “Re-Entry: Returning Home.” Even if the haircuts and clothing styles may seem dated now, the content is still valid. This is equally true of another series of videos which she produced in the late 80s—“Living with the Threat of Terrorism,” “Managing a Crisis—Before, During and After” and “Children and Violence Abroad.” Marilyn also produced a film for children entitled “Are you A-OK?” in which A-OK stands for “alert overseas kid.” To make it more appealing to children, she persuaded Chevy Chase to do a cameo appearance and borrowed MacDonald’s clown, Ronald MacDonald, as part of the publicity campaign.

After two years as the FLO Director, Marilyn was recognized by the Department of State for her “extraordinary and invaluable contributions to the Foreign Service and the entire Foreign Affairs community.” She had consolidated the earlier accomplishments of the fledgling office, while amply illustrating new and creative ways to reach out to our far-flung Foreign Service population. In 1997, she received the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Public Service Award for her work as Executive Director of State’s Video Production Unit.

Marilyn will be remembered with much affection and admiration. She was a loyal friend who cared deeply about the welfare of others. She tirelessly sought ways to reach out to the FS community. A true pioneering spirit, she was immensely creative and possessed of insatiable curiosity. She was also a perfectionist, holding herself and others to the same high standards. And when circumstances required, she was enormously courageous, determined and brave.

Marilyn is survived by her husband of 56 years, Allen Holmes, her two children, Katherine Holmes-Chuba and Gerry Holmes, and four grandchildren, Nick, Olivia, Alexander and Aidan.

Memorial Service:
Saturday, June 11, 2016 at 11 a.m. at Ingleside at Rock Creek,
3050 Military Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20015.

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