Monday, February 29, 2016

McKinney Russell (1929-2016), RIP

McKinney Russell, former staff member of Radio Liberation/Liberty in Munich, career diplomat and university professor, died February 17, 2016. 

He had a full and colorful life, including working for Voice of America, US State Department as a Cultural and Political Officer in Moscow, and USIA officer in Beijing, China, and professor at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy, Tufts University.

In 1959, as a journalist for in Radio Liberty, he accompanied Soviet Premier Khrushchev during the latter's visit to the United States. His last position at Radio Liberty was Deputy Director of News; he left Radio Liberty in 1962 and joined the U.S. Information Agency.   

Of instant interest for this blog is his career at Radio Liberty. 1955-1962: this is an extract his from his 1997 oral history interview for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training:

For several years I had had my eye on the U.S. radio stations operating in Munich. The public story in those years was that funding for the two stations came from private contributions by Americans to make it possible for Radio Free Europe to broadcast to five countries in Eastern Europe, that is, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, at the same time that Radio Liberty broadcast from different studios in about fifteen languages of the Soviet Union, principally Russian, of course, but also Ukrainian, Belorussian, Tatar-Bashkir, Georgian, Uzbek, and so on.

In the spring of 1955, a job as Head of Translation at Radio Liberty opened. I was accepted for it and moved to Munich in my old green Opel car in April 1955. Of course, both stations were funded by the Central Intelligence Agency, although no one told me that for 3 or 4 years. The people ultimately in charge, very few of whom knew any Russian, had no idea of what the broadcasts were actually saying. Thus a number of translations had to be made for their benefit of parts of the program every day. Since the translators were all non-native English speakers, the head of the translation section had to do the editing to make sure that the results actually roughly approximated the English language.

I had that job for about 6 or 7 months and then progressively moved up within the organization until I left it in October 1962. I became Special Events Correspondent, then Chief Correspondent, then Deputy Head of News. It proved to be a very interesting professional life, calling for a good deal of travel in Europe. I was often in Brussels or Paris and made half a dozen reporting trips to Scandinavia. The point was to inform listeners in the Soviet Union through feature programs which were then translated into Russian and the other languages. We reported on how free trade unions work in Western Europe; what the living conditions were for people in Finland right next to the Soviet Union; how Swedish elections took place in the glare of sharp competition between competing parties, the overall idea being to provide an alternative picture of what life could be in free countries, and not only in the United States. There were broadcasters from New York and Washington, but the radio station broadcast, as did Radio Free Europe, not as an American station like VOA but as voices of their own peoples.

In 1959, I was on home leave from Munich and had the opportunity of covering the two- week trip to the United States by the then leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. I traveled with him from Washington to New York, and to the West Coast, up to San Francisco, to the farm in Iowa, and so on. 

The principal long-term event in my life during those years was meeting the woman whom I married and to whom I have been married ever since. In February of 1957, after I had been in Munich almost 2 years, I met at a dinner party with colleagues from the Radio Liberty, a young woman of French culture, Italian citizenship, and great charm. She had grown up in Tunisia and was visiting friends in Munich. Her name was Stella Boccara. We decided rather quickly that we went very well together and were married not too long thereafter. Our first son McKinney Junior, was born in 1959, in Munich, and our second child, daughter, Valerie, was born in 1961, also in Munich.

For the rest of his fascinating life, here is the link to the full interview, in which he detailed his personal and professional experiences:

James Critchlow has written a full chapter in his book Radio Hole in the Head about McKinney Russell’s years at Radio Liberty —Chapter 9, “A Brooklyn Window on the World,” pp. 113-126.

Photograph courtesy of his family.

No comments: