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Glenn Smith, veteran diplomat, dies at 93


Glenn Smith saw the world from perspectives available to few others and as a U.S. diplomat he worked for a quarter century to make it a safer place.

Smith, who regarded as one of his premier moments his role in the successful effort to avert a Greek-Turkish war over Cyprus in 1967, died Saturday at his home in Santa Rosa. He was 93.

“He really had a great life,” said son Bruce Smith of Culver City of his dad, a former Foreign Service officer, Marine and journalist. Though his father’s experiences with war and other international crises dimmed his view of humanity, the younger Smith said, “he clearly saw the good side of human beings, too.”

Glenn Smith counted himself fortunate to work as special assistant to late legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow at the U.S. Information Agency and to live and travel around the globe with his wife and fellow Marine Corps veteran, Gloria Diana Lehan Smith.

The couple adored Calcutta, when India became Glenn Smith’s first diplomatic post in the early 1950s. Bruce Smith, one of their four children, said they savored Cyprus during his father’s assignment there, less so Turkey and Ethiopia.

“They loved being in the Third World countries, they had that adventurous spirit,” Bruce Smith said.

The high-level work of both Glenn Smith and his late wife, an actress and international aid volunteer, brought into their lives many prominent individuals. The Smiths met or hosted at their various overseas homes Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy, Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, John Glenn, Isaac Stern, Helen Keller, Sir Edmund Hillary, William O. Douglas and others.

Both Glenn and Gloria Smith were retired when they discovered Sonoma County during a visit with their daughter, Sonoma State graduate and Windsor resident Kerry Bargsten. They made their home in Santa Rosa in 1987. The retired diplomat remarked often that after traveling all his life, he’d found the greatest place in the world to live.

Glenn Lee Smith was born in Tacoma, Wash., in 1921. He studied for a time at the University of Washington and in 1939 joined the American Field Service, accepting an assignment as an ambulance attendant attached to the British 8th Army in the Middle East and North Africa.

He was wounded in 1943 and returned home. He’d healed when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1944.

Later that year, he was in San Diego County when he was contacted by a fellow Marine named Gloria Diane Lehan. Assigned to write stories about Marines and submit the pieces to their hometown newspapers, she’d come upon a photo of Glenn Smith and liked the looks of him.

“She made sure to meet him,” son Bruce Smith said, “and the rest is history.” The couple would be married for 61 years.

Glenn Smith returned to college after the war, earning a degree in international relations from UCLA. Before he joined the Foreign Service in 1947, he worked for several years as a prize-winning crime reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Mirror.

His diplomatic service placed him for five years in India, two in Turkey, three in Ethiopia and four on Cyprus. Occasionally called home, he served also as the public affairs adviser to the Under Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs, and as special assistant to the late CBS News icon Murrow.

Smith ended his career in diplomacy with a three-year stint as Consul General in Izmir, Turkey. Following retirement in 1975, he served as a Public Member Hearing Officer of the California State Bar, which took on cases involving attorney discipline and fee arbitration.

In Santa Rosa, he and his wife played tennis and launched pleasure trips. The retired diplomat also enjoyed golf, baseball and reading, mostly nonfiction.

Gloria Smith died in 2005. Glenn Smith came to treasure the companionship of his dog, Gina, and for the past eight months or so relied much on his caretaker, Sovaia Solata, and her family.

In addition to his daughter in Windsor and son in Southern California, Smith is survived by daughter Shelley Sweeney of Raleigh, N.C.; son Stephen Smith of Las Vegas; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Services will be private. Smith will be buried next to his wife at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Chris Smith