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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, April 23, 2024
HomeCommentaryOp-Ed: Remembering Ambassador Terence A. Todman, a Brilliant Virgin Islander

Op-Ed: Remembering Ambassador Terence A. Todman, a Brilliant Virgin Islander

Ambassador Terence Todman attends a White House reception with President George H. W. Bush. (Photo courtesy James Dandridge II)
Ambassador Terence Todman, left, attends a White House reception with President George H.W. Bush. (Photo courtesy James Dandridge II)

Black History was always history from when humans were first formed from the dust of the earth by their creator. “Most often in the history of the modern world it appears that it is the task of those who come from vastly populated societies to create and record those events which are deemed ‘lasting contributions’ to history,” noted the late Ariel Melchior Sr., who wrote the foreword message for From These Shores, a book written by Axel C. Hansen.

Olasee Davis
Olasee Davis (Submitted photo)

As small as the Virgin Islands are, great men and women from these shores have made great, everlasting contributions to the world’s human family. Sometimes, I become a little bit perplexed when I hear that our children are lacking in role models. As a community, we have failed our children by failing to teach them about themselves and how Africans gave birth to the world’s greatest civilizations. From these civilizations came science, medicine, mathematics, and a continuous long list of contributions to mankind. Nonetheless, it is so embedded in us mentally today that many believe the beginning of Black History starts with slavery. Believe me, it is so far from the truth of human history.

For this Black History Month, I will mention a Virgin Islander who served as a great diplomat and became an extraordinary ambassador for the United States government. His name is Terence A. Todman, the son of Racheal Callwood and Alphonso Todman, who was born on St. Thomas on March 13, 1926. He grew up during the U.S. Navy rule of these islands and the first appointed civilian governor of the Virgin Islands, Dr. Paul Martin Pearson.

Things were much different back then, I can imagine, in these islands’ way of life. I believe it was one of the most progressive times in Virgin Islands’ modern history. Without a doubt, Todman heard or probably met great men like Lionel Roberts and Rothschild Francis, or great teachers like Bertha C. Boschulte and Jane E. Tuitt, who served from 1944 to 1945 as acting principal at Charlotte Amalie High School, where he graduated from in 1944.

After his graduation, Todman entered college at Inter-American University in Puerto Rico. However, his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. military in the final year of World War II. At the Fort Benning Army Offices School in Georgia, Todman was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the military. During his service in Japan from 1945 to 1949, he learned Japanese and spoke the language well. He helped organize the first election in Japan in 1947 in the early post-war period.

Before Todman left the military, he was beginning to mark himself as a person of distinction and was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Infantry School at Fort Benning in 1952. He resumed his studies at Inter-American University and received a Bachelor of Science in political science and went on to receive an Master of Public Administration in 1952 from Syracuse University in New York and then went on to American University in Washington, D.C.

After Todman completed his education, he married his sweetheart, Doris Weston, also from St. Thomas, and together they had four children: Terence Jr., Patricia, Kathryn, and Michael. During the early years of his career, Todman developed an interest in international affairs. At the same time, he demonstrated an extraordinary ability in languages, which turned his attention to work for the United States Foreign Service.

It was during Harry S. Truman’s presidency in 1952 that Todman got a position in the Foreign Service in the State Department where he distinguished himself as a diplomatic leader. It was here his greatness begin to develop at the United Nations. On his agenda, he developed a program for colonial nations to become independent. By the 1960s, his decolonization program bore fruit, whereby many of those nations became independent.

In 1969, Todman’s first appointment as U.S. ambassador came from President Richard Nixon to Chad, a North African country. It was there that his skills in diplomacy and international understanding and his language abilities were remarkable. He worked with France, Libya, and Chad to work out their differences. Believe me, his fluency in both Arabic and French made him ideal for the task working with those nations.

At the end of his term in Chad in 1972, he took over the top position at the U.S. Embassy in Guinea in West Africa. He served there until 1974. During that period, he was able to work with the country’s then President Sekou Toure, who was in charge of a nation with a strong anti-America agenda. With diplomacy, Todman was able to turn Toure around and reduce the hostility toward the United States.

Ambassador Terence Todman greeting people in Togo, a sub-Saharan West African country in 1967. (Photo courtesy Todman family archives)
Ambassador Terence A. Todman greets people in Togo, a sub-Saharan West African country, in 1967. (Photo courtesy Todman family archives)

During President Gerald Ford’s administration, Todman was named ambassador to Costa Rica in Central America from 1974 to 1977. His fluency in Spanish and familiarity with South America and the Caribbean region made his stay there a great success for U.S. diplomacy. Under President Jimmy Carter’s administration, Todman was appointed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for West Hemisphere Affairs from 1977 to 1978. He opened diplomatic channels with Cuba, especially negotiations between the two countries regarding maritime boundaries.

Todman was also instrumental in the ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty between the U.S. and Panama. Under President Carter in 1978, Todman became a diplomat in Europe. In this position, he negotiated the U.S. naval and air bases in Spain. In fact, he oversaw the entrance of Spain into NATO, which boosted the U.S. military’s strength in Europe. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed Todman as ambassador to Denmark. Todman quickly attained fluency in Danish and became an effective ambassador, which benefitted the Virgin Islands by promoting the return of colonial records and highlighting the islands as a tourist destination.

In 1987, Todman was named “Career Ambassador” — the first African American to receive such a distinguished honor. His final appointment as an ambassador was under President George H. W. Bush, in 1989 in Argentina.

Todman served this great nation for more than four decades in six United States embassies under six presidents. He mastered more than a half dozen languages. He left his imprint on hundreds of important negotiations and was influential among countless world leaders.

There is no room to mention all the awards, honorary doctorate degrees, seats on university boards — including the University of the Virgin Islands — and countless other important assignments that Todman accomplished in his career. From small islands like the Virgin Islands, Todman impacted the world, which is beyond one’s comprehension. On Aug. 13, 2014, he fell asleep in death.

Believe me, his legacy is everlasting in the hearts of Virgin Islanders and the world he served.

— Olasee Davis is a bush professor who lectures and writes about the culture, history, ecology and environment of the Virgin Islands when he is not leading hiking tours of the wild places and spaces of St. Croix and beyond.

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