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Richard Dabney Chapman

Oct 2, 2015

Richard Dabney Chapman of Shepherdstown, died on Sept. 28, 2015 at the age of 86. A Senior Foreign Service Officer, he retired to Shepherdstown in 1986. Dabney always described himself as a “son of the Shenandoah Valley,” having spent his childhood and youth in Rockbridge County, Virginia in the upper valley and his last years in the lower. He was educated at Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia (1946) and at Washington & Lee University in Lexington (1950, Phi Kappa Sigma social fraternity, President, Sr. year; Phi Beta Kappa). Subsequently, he did graduate work at the University of Virginia (History) and at Syracuse University, New York (MA, Russian Studies, 1956).

In 1951 Dabney joined the U.S. Air Force, studied Russian at Syracuse and served in Germany and Libya until 1954. He married Nancy McArthur Echols in 1955. In 1956 he entered the U.S. Foreign Service of the Department of State, and for the next thirty years he served abroad with the U.S. Information Agency as a diplomatic officer for press and cultural affairs.

His first position was in Washington, DC where he was the Intelligence desk officer for Australia, New Zealand, and Southwest Pacific. From 1957-1959 he was posted to Stuttgart, Germany as Acting Director of the U.S. cultural center (“Amerika Haus”); he then became Director in the old German university city of Tuebingen until 1962 where he was the only American official in Wuerttemberg/ Hohenzollern-at the time within the French zone of occupation. He established the Fulbright Commission for exchange of persons while serving as Cultural Affairs Officer in Kabul, Afghanistan (1961-1965).

After studying Russian at the U.S. Army Institute for Advanced Study of the USSR and East Europe in Garmisch, Germany (1966), he became Press Attach in Moscow until he was expelled by the USSR in October 1967 in a retaliatory move: a Soviet diplomatic “counterpart” was forced to leave the U.S. after being observed by the FBI buying military secrets. He returned to serve as Chief of the European Division of the Voice of America in Washington, DC to 1969.

Thereafter, he was head of Public Affairs in Zagreb, Croatia (then a consulate in Yugoslavia until 1973) and in The Hague, the Netherlands (1973-1975). At the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, he was responsible for information and cultural centers throughout the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1977, Dabney served in Berlin, first as Deputy Director of the Radio in the American Sector (RIAS)-the official U.S. station broadcasting to the people of the German Democratic Republic and East Berlin-and then as chief of Public Affairs at the U.S. Berlin Mission.

From 1979-1982, he inspected information and cultural programs in embassies around the world, and in 1980, was promoted to Senior Foreign Service Officer. After a year of Turkish language training at the Foreign Service Institute, he was posted to the U.S. Consulate General Istanbul, Turkey as chief of Public Affairs.

He retired from government service in 1985 where he and Nancy settled in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. While serving abroad, Dabney became proficient in Farsi, Serbo-Croatian, and Turkish, and was nigh fluent in German and Russian. In retirement he taught German and Russian at Shepherd College (now University), was an active Rotarian, member of the Shepherdstown Men’s Club (Community Club), the Board of The Station at Shepherdstown, the Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired (DACOR), of the American Foreign Service Association, of the Sons of the American Revolution and of Trinity Episcopal Church, Shepherdstown.

When asked about retiring to Shepherdstown, in his inimitably genial manner he said, “This town warmly embraced us into its strong, caring community-with its higher learning, churches, service clubs, libraries and all. It is, of course, in some respects unique-how many towns can boast an historian laureate? But do not generalize her uniqueness. The greatness of America consists in the widespread replication of Shepherdstown qualities across the land.”

Dabney’s marriage to his beloved Nancy Echols Chapman ended with her death in 1988. Their eldest, Nathaniel, died in 2008. Dabney is survived by: William and wife Melissa of Martinsburg; Sarah and husband Timothy Monahan of Rome, Italy; John and wife Crystal of Morgan County; Nathaniel’s wife Liza Memery of Alexandria, Virginia; and his grandchildren: Nicholas, Nancy, and Harrison Monahan; Marguerite, Ellen, Elizabeth, and Nathaniel Chapman; and Josephine Chapman.

Memorial Service will be on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 1:30 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church.