Understanding the South through the eyes of the world

This week on the Reckon Interview, we hear from Don Heflin, a diplomat who has served for more than 30 years in the U.S. state department. His career has taken him from Peru to Mexico, to Zambia to London, and he’s currently the head of Consul Operations at the US Embassy in India.

Heflin grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, and we chat a little bit about how he’s maintained ties to the South while serving around the world. And how his time abroad has changed his perspective on the region where he grew up. We recorded this conversation via Zoom across a ten hour time difference between Tuscaloosa and India. So I’ll warn you that there are a few moments where Heflin’s connection wavers and the sound dips out. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear a bit of an accent that’s never quite disappeared after three decades abroad.

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Below is a transcript of the episode.

John Hammontree: I know it’s a 10-hour time difference, so I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Right now, you are the head of all consular operations in India. For those of us who are not necessarily familiar with the way that foreign service and the state department works. Tell us exactly what that means and where that fits in terms of ambassadors and charge d’affaires and all of these roles.

Don Heflin: In my job. My number one job is to help Americans who get in trouble overseas. And in India, that’s fortunately, not too many people. I’ve been in countries where it was a lot of people where we had hundreds of prisoners in jail at any given time. India is not one of those places. We do have people come over here and just have mishaps during travel. We have a pretty good amount of children who are the children of divorce where mom or dad is back in the US and the other parent’s here in India with them. We have to check in on every now and then as subjects of a custody dispute. And then we talk to all the Indians who want to move to the U.S. to work or study. I’m about number three in the embassy hierarchy.

Now, earlier this year, I had a couple stints where I acted as Ambassador Charge is the technical term. And the reason for that was the transition. We had a politically appointed ambassador under President Trump Kenneth Juster, he’s a good guy and knew India really well, but he had to leave on January 20. So I had to fill in when he first left.

Hammontree: And you are a career diplomat, not a political appointee. You’ve been in the service for a little over 30 years now. Is that right?

Heflin: That’s right. I practiced law in Huntsville and left to join the foreign service in 1987.

Hammontree: Let’s talk a little bit about India right now. Because as COVID cases have been dropping in the United States, we did see a spike in India and one of the dominant strains in the world right now is a variant that developed in India. You know, as the head of consular operations, what was your response to balancing stopping the spread of Covid, while also making sure that Americans are able to get in touch with their loved ones in India or American citizens who are in India were able to get home?

Heflin: Yeah, I was acting Ambassador at the time the second wave started and it was terrible. We lost several of our local Indian employees in the embassy who died. We had one American die. The Indian population had it a lot worse.

The problem here was it’s such a big country, it’s gonna take them a long time to get vaccinated. And they had this variant show up, they’d been doing very well, their numbers were very good for months, they had opened up restaurants and stores on a socially distanced basis. And this variant showed up and just went ripping through the country and overwhelmed their hospital beds. That’s what really concerned us.

And we immediately… if you go on my Facebook page, you’ll see a posting in which I talked about how proud I was of our country that day. We got on conferences with Washington, I’ll never forget, it was on a Friday, and I said “We need to have oxygen landing on airplanes here by next Thursday.” They just didn’t even have enough oxygen in the hospitals. It took them by surprise. And we did it. The US Air Force brought over big cargo loads of oxygen and ventilators. Other countries did the same thing. And then the Indian government did the right thing.

But it was pretty scary. India lost a lot of people in about six-eight week period.

Hammontree: Early on in your career, I guess it was your second posting probably, you served in India. You started out in Peru in the late 80s and then served in India in 1990. How has the subcontinent changed in the last 30 years and how has its relationship with the United States changed?

 Heflin: It’s changed a lot. I remember my first year was in Peru. And it’s recognizably the same culture as the United States. It’s just… you know, if I told you I dropped you off in a poorer area of Texas or California, you’d believe me. I got off the plane in India and I thought, “we are not in Kansas anymore.”

It’s totally different. Everything’s different. The way people dress, the colors, the houses of worship, the cars they drove. Half the time you’d be in the street and big things like computers would be hauled through the streets by a cart driven by bulls. It was totally different.

And it was very much off the world economy, it had built a wall around itself and you couldn’t import hardly anything. And relations with the U.S. weren’t great, historically. They were okay, but it was a socialist country with a lot of ties to the Soviet Union.

I come back 30 years later, very integrated into the world economy, a lot of people to people ties and family ties from the U.S. and India. The place has Westernized a lot. I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. It’s just really night and day. The economy’s booming. The middle class… there’s still a lot of poor people, but a big middle class, I would say the Indian middle class now is probably 300 million people. There’s a lot of traffic back and forth between the two countries, a lot of joint ventures going on between big American companies and big Indian companies.

And generally speaking, I think the US has become more popular here. Relations are pretty warm, and they have been for years. We worked together a lot on Covid, both before India’s crisis this spring and now to help them pull out of the crisis. It’s a country that’s basically friendly to American values and can be a real partner in this area of the world.

Hammontree: A few weeks ago, we spoke with another guest on the Reckon Interview, a woman named Anjeli Enjeti. She’s an Indian American woman and a Southerner from Georgia. And we were talking about Partition. And recently India moving more aggressively, I guess, towards policing non-Hindu worshippers in the country, particularly the division with Pakistan and the Muslim population there. Have those differences been mitigated in any way by the Covid crisis? Or is that still something that people should be concerned about in India right now?

Heflin: Yeah, I mean, you go back, you know, Pakistanis celebrate Independence Day, Indians don’t. You know? It’s traumatic in India. Partition was terrible. And millions of people died. A good chunk of the country became independent, became Pakistan and later part of it became Bangladesh. It was a trauma. They celebrate the day they became a republic, instead.

That’s one thing that’s changed in the last 30 years. India, 30 years ago, was much more of a secular country. The old ruling parties kind of bent over backwards to stress that India wasn’t a Hindu country, it was a secular country made up of all faiths. That’s kind of gone away.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Covid crisis has forged more of a unity particularly among poor people and just regular people, because everybody was in the same boat. I mean everybody was in the same boat. Everybody had their relatives dying, everybody was going to the hospital and not finding bids or finding a bed and there’s no oxygen. Every cloud has some kind of silver lining. That would be a silver lining if people on the kind of personal level connected.

Hammontree: You grew up in Alabama, I know you worked part of your career in Birmingham. I believe you grew up in Huntsville. So how did you get involved with foreign service? I mean, did you travel a lot as a kid? Is this something that you always knew you wanted to do? How did you stumble into this line of work?

Heflin: No, I think the furthest we traveled was Panama City Beach. But when I was growing up in Huntsville, it was a very international town. There were people from all over the world there. The Huntsville Times was fantastic newspaper, it covered foreign affairs really well. My parents read the morning and evening paper every day. And we all sat down watched the evening news together. I got very interested.

And then I went to Birmingham, Southern and one of my professors was Natalie Davis, who did a fantastic job of teaching politics in other countries. And it really got me interested.

And then I went to law school and kind of put it aside for a few years, but when I was practicing law, I was doing okay. I mean, there were some times I really felt like I was helping people. I was paying the bills. But it clearly wasn’t my calling. I knew that.

And I decided to try the foreign services, see how it went for a few years. And like most people who joined the Foreign Service, I thought “five, maybe 10 years,” but I really got sucked into the system, and have now been doing it for 34 years this fall.

Hammontree: Were you serving in India a few years ago when there was the incident in Huntsville, where an elderly Indian gentleman was body slammed by police officers there?

Heflin: No, I forget where I was at the time. I paid attention to the issue. That’s the kind of thing that will really make the Indian press every time. They’re very sensitive to that kind of incident involving their nationals in the U.S. or anywhere really.

Hammontree: For our audience who maybe would want to follow in your footsteps and get involved with the Foreign Service. You know, how does one go about that? Do you need to be versed in whatever language you’re planning to… where you would like to go and serve? You know, if I wanted to serve in India, would I need to learn local languages in order to do that?

Don Heflin: Well, no. A lot of us come in without languages. It’s extra points if you have a language when you’re recruited. And as far as your career having any kind of rational path, they give you the illusion of input into where you go. I always compare it to having kids. And they hop in the car and you go, “do you want to go to McDonald’s or Burger King?” And they get all excited they get to choose, but they get a hamburger either way, right?

I would say, first off the Foreign Service. The way you get in the Foreign Service, with some exceptions, is you take a test. And it’s a kind of a combination of aptitude and knowledge test. If you pass it, there’s an oral exam. And then you join the Foreign Service.

Not that many people do. A big hiring year there might be 200 or 300 people. But there’s a lot of other careers in foreign affairs. And I actually, for years now, have been open to being contacted by people who are interested in this. And usually what I do is I ask them a few questions about themselves, their experiences, and I sit down at the table and reply. But I don’t concentrate just on State Department for foreign service. There are other opportunities to work overseas if want to, there’s perches, there’s banks, there’s other agencies of the U.S. government.

The only thing I caution people about is if you’re interested in the subject matter, if you’re really interested in international affairs and relations, you either want to move around the world like I do or you’re gonna work in Washington. And that’s not necessarily logical, you’d think there’d be a lot of these kinds of jobs in say, Atlanta or Chicago or San Francisco. There’s just not. It’s kind of do or die, Washington or moving around. So, you know, you have to not only be interested in the subject matter but you have to make that lifestyle choice. Plop yourself down in Washington and be a part of your local community and really become a deep expert on what you’re working on. Or do you want to move around the world and always kind of be a [unintelligible] like I am.

Anybody who’s interested when I just said. it’s heflindl@state.gov. Drop me a line. I’m happy to reply anytime: Heflindl@state.gov.

Hammontree: Wonderful. How do you maintain your connections to Alabama after having lived away 30 something years?

Heflin: Well, it’s you know, with electronic media, it’s kind of a little easier. When I first went overseas, I couldn’t figure out any way to watch or listen to the Bama football games. So I had my mom tape the old coach’s shows. Remember those? 30 minutes the next day, they look at every play. I’d eagerly await those.

Now it’s easy. I can watch every game.

I used to also have the Huntsville Times sent to me in the diplomatic pouch which the diplomatic counselors would bitch and moan about until I asked them, “Do you have a problem with this New York Times?” For the longest time… We tend to, in the Foreign Service, take our vacations in big, chunky like four weeks at a time, in the summertime when our kids are out of school. And I did exactly that. I would go back to base myself in Huntsville, and go down to Birmingham and Tuscaloosa for three, four weeks a year.

My daughter went to college at Austin Peay, in 2007. And my mom passed away in 2012. And all of a sudden, I needed to be where my daughter was and later where my future wife was and didn’t need me in Huntsville as much so kind of the past 10 years I’ve been down less. But I did come down a lot and maintain a lot of friendships there. And I keep up, I read AL.com every day.

Hammontree: Well, thank you, we appreciate that. Your service has taken you to at least Peru, India, Mexico, Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi, London and Cape Verde. So you know, a lot of those countries are in what often gets labeled, at one point it was labeled the Third World. And I think the common term now is the Global South. And I remember the first time I heard the Global South as a southerner, I was like, “what does that mean?” That like the those are the countries that are considered “the South,” does that make the G7 countries, “the North?” What is the Global South, but then also, how has that service affected your perspective of the American South? You know, your time in these other countries?

Heflin: Well, yeah, you’re right. With the exception of some fairly highly developed countries like say, India, Brazil, generally speaking, the Southern Hemisphere was colonized by the countries of Europe in the Northern Hemisphere. And we’ll be debating for decades or centuries, all the effects of colonization.

But generally speaking, it’s really kind of hard to get rich selling your minerals or your agricultural produce to people halfway around the world. And that’s exactly what happened to all these countries they were poor. Then they became independent and then many of them are still poor. Peru kind of recognizably American culture, India, totally different.

When I got to Zambia, the first time I went driving in the countryside, I thought, “oh my god, this is just like the Black Belt.” I spent a lot of time around the Black Belt. And I love it. And it’s very similar. You have people wearing different clothes and the houses are different but, generally speaking, it’s very similar geography, very similar problems of poverty. People who are tied to the land, people who love the land and wouldn’t consider moving anywhere else. And I think in a lot of ways Southerners may have a better understanding of this.

I was really interested when I was in… Zambia was the first place I noticed it, how many Auburn grads I kept running into. Right? Because they study things like agriculture and agricultural engineering. And they were all over the development world working in the Global South. And I got back to Washington and I kept running into Auburn grads. So, finally, I – this was in the days before Google – so I think I just called the alumni office and asked “how many people do you have in the Washington area and they said 10,000. And I said, “Wow.” So I called Bama’s alumni office, I said, “how many people do you have in the Washington area?” Same answer. Who knew?

But a lot of them are working in ag and ag development and things like that and doing some really good work.

Hammontree: There’s a lot of connections, obviously to West Africa and the South. I mean, much of our African American population in the South can trace their lineage back to countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal. And at one point you were serving as the Deputy Director of the Office of West African Affairs. You know, what role can the State Department play in both helping people discover those connections? People can’t necessarily trace it because slavery wiped out lineage records and things like that. So what role can the State Department play in helping people develop those connections, and then also maintaining those connections?

Heflin: We are seeing a little tourism in that direction. When I was in Cabo Verde, we’ve devoted some small amounts of U.S. government money to help them to restore some of the sites in West Africa. Places like the Farewell Gate or Goree Island, which was often the last part of Africa that slaves saw. Or W.E.B. Dubois’ house in Ghana. There’s now a bit of tourism of African Americans going back and kind of retracing the route to the extent they can. And a lot of people are doing this 23andme, or Ancestry.com, which tells you where your ancestors were from. You’re not going to get much more than that out of it.

When I was in Cabo Verde, it was really interesting. Professor Henry Louis Gates at Harvard, has some stuff up on his website. And basically his theme is that, you know, in America, we think we understand slavery, people came over from West Africa, and they picked cotton in the South. No, that’s about 10% of the total. Most folks went to the Caribbean or Brazil. And he’s got a really good graphic of dots. A lot of them went from Cabo Verde.

And there’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site there in Cidade Velha, which I took a lot of visitors to. That was the auction block, people who were going on mostly to Brazil there. It’s interesting, the U.S. had a real history there because, you know, fairly early in the 1800s, the slave trade was made illegal. They sold slaves in the South and everything that went with slavery, but you couldn’t import them. And the Royal Navy and the US Navy, kept the slave trade suppressed as best they could. And we found the records of the guys who had been the consuls, it was before it was an independent country, so they weren’t ambassadors.

It was the US consuls in Cabo Verde, and how they worked together with the US Navy to bust up some of the slave trade.

Hammontree: I’m curious about, you know, the reaction that you received in these countries, but also, you know, elsewhere where you’ve served, you know, as a white man from Alabama, what are the perceptions that they have about Alabama and the South in general?

Heflin: Well, you know, it’s interesting, I never had a real problem with that, except with one exception, which I’ll come back to. I’ve never had anybody look at me and say “Well you’re from Alabama and I hear that’s like the worst.”

Now people who were in the Foreign Service 20 or 30 years before I was, said it was a real problem. You know, we would really be pressing some of these newly independent countries about civil rights issues and freedoms. And we’d be criticizing the Soviets and the Soviets said well what about Selma? You know what about this? What about that? What about the police dogs in Birmingham?

By the time I came along that had really ceased. People saw it more as an American problem. They would raise, you know, whataboutism, as we call it. What about this thing that happened in the U.S. without really isolating it to the South and Alabama. I remember one time we were leaning on an African country to get them to treat refugees better than they were. And California had passed some anti-immigrant policy, and that got thrown back in our face.

However, I will say this. I married a Massachusetts girl. And so I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years around New England Yankees. And they’ve actually got that syndrome really bad, they’ve never been down to the South. They usually say that they don’t go southwest of New York City, if they can avoid it. But they think they understand the South and think the problems are kind of simple down here and can just be labeled move on.

Hammontree: You were talking about, you know, that perception in the 60s and 70s. Last year with the death of George Floyd, we did see protests around the world from Europe to Africa to South America. Was there much of a reaction in India at that time?

Heflin: I was actually in Mexico at the time. You know, frankly, Covid was pretty strong. And there wasn’t much of a reaction in the sense of demonstrations in the streets.

It did cause us to have a lot of discussions within the State Department. We also had an incident at that time, an officer who was getting hassled every time she entered the US, a young African American woman. And that caused a lot of soul searching in the State Department. We’ve also done… we’re under the… the Foreign Service Act has us under a very specific duty to look like the US. And we don’t. We try. We have problems recruiting. We have problems retaining people. We’re also kind of, like, if you look at my group that are serving right now, we reflect the intake policies of 35 years ago not today. The groups they’re bringing in today as young first-time officers are much more diverse.

And I don’t think there were any big institutions in India either, but the stories reverberated around the world. And the media picked it up everywhere.

Hammontree: You joined in the late 80s. So I would assume that would have been under President Reagan. You would have served under both President Bushes, President Clinton, President Obama, President Trump. Each president brings a very different foreign policy. I won’t make you comment on any of the politics of those presidents. I know that you can’t do that as a state department employee but, you know, as a career diplomat, as a member of quote, unquote, the Deep State, how do you adapt from, you know, changing foreign policy to changing foreign policy, depending on the country that you’re in?

Heflin: It’s probably been a little less true in recent years, but for the longest time, you know, we always talk about the bipartisan [unintelligible] and the truth is that if you look at what candidates say they’re going to do on foreign policy, as candidates, first off, they tend not to concentrate on foreign policy very much.

Usually it’s domestic issues that get you elected. Foreign policy is what you do when you find the domestic issues are kind of tough, and some kind of opportunity comes up on an international stage. But if you think for instance, like a successful candidate for president one year, may have had three or four really solid points they make on foreign policy for something they want to change. But they don’t talk about the hundreds of things we do every day.

Africa policy tends not to change very much between administrations. Policy towards India tends not to change very much between administrations. Okay, it really is bipartisan in a lot of ways. Certain other areas of the world? Yeah, they change a lot.

Hammontree: I would imagine that there are at least a couple of sea change events that took place during your career: the collapse of the Soviet Union and then of course, 9/11. Those two events certainly reshaped our foreign policy broadly. What are your memories of those events during your service?

Heflin: I was at home on leave when the wall fell in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. So I wasn’t overseas to absorb it. One big thing it did was that, a good number of years after that, the Soviet Union, later the Russians, were not nearly as aggressive overseas. They were very aggressive overseas before. My first tour which was when the wall fell was in Peru. The Soviet military was all over the country and South America. So they had to really pull on their horns. 9/11 really changed the way we do business a lot.

We actually, in the State Department, our embassies and our buildings tended to be kind of open. We wanted foreigners to come in to meet with us and see what we were all about. Then a couple years before 9/11, we had the attacks on the embassies in Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam. And we began to toughen up our embassies.

And after 9/11, it got beyond tough. We started going around building a lot of new buildings that are very hard to get to, very hard to get inside. Something got lost in that. You know, when I’m Charges here, I travel around with heavy security. And we’re just not… we’re still meeting with the leadership of countries, we’re still in the media a lot. But it’s harder for us to get out and just mix it up with the average person.

Hammontree: Coming up after the break more from Don Heflin about how life abroad has changed the way he thinks about the South and some global issues that should be on all of our radars.

You know, in the United States, a lot of our news still tends to center around European countries. You know, we’ll get news about what’s happening in England, anything from the royal family to Brexit. We’ll get news about France and Germany. We don’t get a whole lot of news on our, you know, mainstream TV channels about what’s happening in the subcontinent? Even what’s happening in Asia, beyond China and Japan, and certainly what’s happening in Africa. And I read just a couple weeks ago that by 2050 there’s some estimates that Nigeria will actually have a larger population than China. And so what are some issues that, you know, we probably have not been paying attention to in the United States in Africa and India and elsewhere under your purview that we need to be aware of?

Heflin: Yeah, you’re exactly right. And you know, if you look at, say, the trade figures between the U.S. and the EU, there’s a good reasons that Europe’s on the center of our radar screen, okay? There’s a lot of money being made for American businesses and jobs created on both sides of the Atlantic. But you know, India’s numbers aren’t shabby as a trading partner.

One thing I don’t think we pay nearly enough attention to is Mexico. Mexico’s right next to us and is part of free trade area with us. They do a lot of our labor for us, in terms of putting stuff together. And the amount of trade, I remember I was acting as ambassador there when I turned and asked the ag guy, how much agricultural stuff we sold to Mexico. We always think of Mexicans as raising avocados and we buy them. We sell a lot of stuff there, and it was some phenomenal number. I mean it was huge. Like several billion dollars a year. But who knows that?

I did one tour in Nuevo Laredo which is right on the border, we had a terrible war between the two drug cartels. I mean, terrible. Bombs were going off. Machine gunnings. And  sometimes you could hear it in Laredo Texas. It never made the American media north of San Antonio. How is that possible? This is a country next door. Whereas, if in downtown London, people were blowing off car bombs and shooting up machine guns, it’d be front page news.

Hammontree: Has your time abroad shaped the way that you think about, reshaped the way that you think about the United States and about the South in particular?

Heflin: When I first joined, I was a couple years off of being on the Madison County Democratic Committee, and I very strongly held views. And I kept working for these people that were more what we call technocrats, in that they were really neither liberal nor conservative, nor Democratic nor Republican. They tend to look at each question and see what would work and what wouldn’t work, almost like an engine. And I thought, man, these people have no value system. I’ll never be like them, man. Now here I am and I’ve become a technocrat.

And what you tend to do is you go back and look at where you’re from, or other parts of the U.S., other problems in the U.S. and you look at it like you would a foreign country. How did we get here? And how can we fix this? Or is this just kind of baked in and not something we can fix so how do we fix this over here instead? I do tend to turn that on the U.S. a lot.

And the South. I’ve always thought… I love to read Southern history. There’s a lot in there to be unpacked. But when you, for instance, Alabama history, stepping back and taking the long view of Alabama history, we’ve been a struggle for 115 years or more between the Wigs and the Anti-Wigs. The Wigs being the people that have big money are allied with outside economic interests, what Big Jim Folsom used to call Big Mules. And then the folks who have no money, okay? And one faction or the other will become ascendant for some time, and then things will reverse themselves and the other will become ascendant. And political parties change. The labels like liberal and conservative change, but basically, it’s always been a struggle in Alabama, between the Wigs and everybody else.

And it’s like, you know, unless there’s some just huge sea change, Alabama politics is gonna be like that 30, 40, 50 years from now.

Hammontree: To close, now, you mentioned being a student of history. You’re obviously a citizen of the world, if there were some books or films or other resources that you think our audience should check out in order to better understand their place in the world society, whether it’s as a Southerner or an American or as an Alabamian, what are some resources you would point?

Heflin: Now the world as a whole, that’s tough. You really need to… first off, you got to like to read nonfiction. Not everybody does. But if you like to read nonfiction, you know, there’s some really good books out there down at your public library on, you know, the history of India or history of China or Japan or Brazil, Mexico, all have some excellent books written about them.

As far as the South’s concerned, there are a lot of good books out there on civil rights movement. I’m actually fascinated by–you and I were talking before we went on the air about the Bonita Carter podcast you guys did. And I was in Birmingham at the time and I was taking a deep dive into back in the 60s when Bull Connor was running the police in Birmingham, how the city fathers tried to change the form of government to kick him out of office. And that in turn led to a lot of research in New South movement I think it’s really an overlooked period in the 1920s and 30s in the South. Kind of attempts to improve the place without a lot of money coming in. And then FDR and the New Deal came along and put a lot of money into it and began to transform the South.

But back in those days, I read The Emergence of the New South, and the Transformation of the New South. And then later on Jack Bass’s and Walter de Vries’ books on “Transformation of Southern Politics,” V.O. Key’s classic book on Southern politics, has chapter’s on Alabama and WJ Cash’s “The Mind of the South.”

But there’s really, you know, Southern history has gone through a lot of phases, since the Civil War. We’ve got Reconstruction, got the post-Reconstruction era, got the New South movement and the social gospel movement of the early 20s. Then the New Deal comes along. Then there’s the 50s and 60s kind of back and forth on civil rights. Then the 70s, it’s when I was a kid, but I see as a golden era, and then everything that has happened since then.

And I think there’s a lot of untold stories in there. I mean there’s the stories of the civil rights lawyers. Homewood had a voting rights case. One man, one vote. Went to the Supreme Court. All four attorneys on both plaintiff’s and defendant’s side were graduates of the University of Alabama.

There were movements to… Howell Heflin was a real leader in reforming the judicial system and making it something that the average person could understand. We’re distant relations. I was quite an admirer of his. I was volunteering on his campaigns. I thought he was a very good Senator. I think one of the untold stories and we could come back and talk about these kind of stories one day but he kept George Wallace out of the senate, hands down. 1978, Wallace is term limited, he had no place to go but the US Senate. And our poll showed Heflin thumping him by 17-18%. But also, I think, more importantly, he was very fantastic judge. He did eight years, two years as head of the state bar, and then six years as Chief Justice where he totally transformed the judicial system. And there’s a book just in that. I think, if he’d never been in the US Senate, he should go down as probably the greatest Chief Justice we’ve had in Alabama.

Hammontree: Well, Ambassador Heflin. Any last wisdom for our audience, before we close?

Heflin: I’d say this, if you’ve got the bug to travel overseas, to live overseas for a while, to work in kind of International Affairs, do it. Again, email me at heflindl@state.gov, if there’s a career or something that you’re interested in. But you know, get outside, go travel the world. You know, sometimes you’ll find things aren’t as bad in the U.S., as you thought they were, once you see how they do things overseas. Sometimes you’ll see things overseas and you’ll think, “Hey, this really works. Why don’t we do this back home?” And it’s a lot of fun.

Ambassador Don Heflin can be reached at heflindl@state.gov

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