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Posted at 11:33 AM ET, 02/ 5/2011

85, and still a sweetie

By T. Rees Shapiro

Richard B. Parker, who died Jan. 7 at 87 in Washington, was a Middle East expert who served in the 1970s as the U.S. ambassador to Algeria, Lebanon and Morocco.

He joined the Foreign Service in 1949 and specialized as an Arabist. The depth of his expertise in Arab culture led him to write scores of academic papers on a variety of topics, including Lebanese proverbs and Arabic graffiti in Middle Eastern men's restrooms.

He spoke Arabic with native fluency and became a respected adviser on Middle Eastern politics to Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

In his diplomatic assessments, Mr. Parker was known to write with an acerbic wit and offer his opinions with blunt honesty.

Among his family and friends, he was also known for his sense of humor.

In 2008, Mr. Parker wrote a letter to the New York Times in response to another reader who had expressed dismay at younger people referring to senior citizens by nicknames like "dear."

"Those elderly people who complain about being addressed as 'sweetie' and 'Pop' sound insecure and humorless," Mr. Parker wrote. "They should relax and enjoy the irreverence and affection of our colloquial dialect."

Mr. Parker, who was 85 at the time, finished by saying: "I like being called 'sweetie.' It gives me hope."

By T. Rees Shapiro  | February 5, 2011; 11:33 AM ET
Categories:  T. Rees Shapiro  
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