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Professor Tommy Koh: My friend Shirley Temple Black

Published on Feb 17, 2014 2:00 PM

Shirley Temple was an American icon. As a child actress, she won the hearts of the American people. She had a cherubic face, with two sweet dimples, and curly blonde hair. She could sing and dance.

When Shirley Temple grew up she stopped acting. Her second marriage to a successful businessman, Charles Black, endured to the end of her life. Mr Black was an influential member of the Republican Party. President Gerald Ford appointed Shirley his Chief of Protocol. During President Ronald Reagan’s first term, Shirley was appointed as a delegate to the UN General Assembly.

I still remember the day I first met Shirley Temple Black. I was sitting in the First Committee of the General Assembly. The item under consideration was the peaceful uses of outer space. Shirley read a statement on behalf of the US delegation. One of my mean-spirited colleagues decided to bring her down to earth and to embarrass her. He asked for the floor and posed a difficult question to her. She didn’t know the answer. I decided to go to her rescue. I asked for the floor and asked her permission to answer the question on her behalf. She was very grateful. It was the beginning of our friendship.

Our paths crossed again in October 1985 when she and her husband were invited to the dinner which President and Mrs Reagan hosted for then PM and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew at the White House. I have a photo of the two of us dancing at the dinner.

In 1995, the former US Secretary of State, Dr George Shultz, invited me to be the Second Frank and Arthur Payne Lecturer at Stanford University. Shirley and her husband lived in a palatial home at Woodside, near Stanford, and they invited me home for dinner. Shirley had also arranged for the prestigious Commonwealth Club of San Francisco to invite me to speak to them at one of their regular luncheon meetings. There is a photo of us at that lunch.

What are my memories of Shirley Temple Black? I remember her as a charismatic, warm and charming person. In addition to her early success as an actress, she had served her country well as its Chief of Protocol, delegate to the UN, and Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. There are two morals to this story. First, never hesitate to do a good deed for a stranger in distress. Second, friendship is very important to the success of diplomacy.

Professor Tommy Koh was ambassador to the United States of America from 1984 to 1990. He is currently Ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Shirley Temple died on Feb 10, aged 85, of natural causes.