February 7, 2011 — Richard B. Parker, Middle East expert and U.S. ambassador who had been a diplomat-in-residence at the University of Virginia, died Jan. 7 in Washington, D.C. He was 87.
At U.Va. from 1981 to 1983, he taught classes on foreign policy in the Arab world and served as an editor of the Middle East Journal, after having retired from a more-than-30-year career as a Foreign Service officer. In the 1970s, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Algeria, Lebanon and Morocco. He also held diplomatic posts in Australia, Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Parker retired from the State Department in 1980.
Parker's interest in the Middle East began soon after his release from a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II. An Army anti-tank platoon officer, Parker was captured by German soldiers after his unit was overwhelmed during the Battle of the Bulge. He was sent to a prison camp in Poland and spent 34 days in captivity before Russian soldiers liberated the camp.
During his repatriation, Parker traveled through the present-day Ukrainian city of Odessa, the Turkish Straits and Port Said in Egypt. He became fascinated with the majesty of Istanbul's architecture and the intricacies of Arab culture.
He joined the Foreign Service in 1949 and specialized in the Arab region. He spoke Arabic with native fluency and became a respected adviser on Middle Eastern politics to Presidents Ford and Carter. In his diplomatic assessments, Parker was known to write with an acerbic wit and offer his opinions with blunt honesty.