The Cable

State Department turns out to honor Philo Dibble

The Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown was full this morning as friends, family, and about 200 State Department employees gathered to pay their respects to longtime diplomat and State Department official Philo Dibble, who died suddenly of a heart attack last weekend. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman, ...

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The Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown was full this morning as friends, family, and about 200 State Department employees gathered to pay their respects to longtime diplomat and State Department official Philo Dibble, who died suddenly of a heart attack last weekend.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Deputy Secretary Bill Burns, Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman, Policy Planning Director Jake Sullivan, Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon, and a host of others from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs were among the attendees at Dibble’s Thursday morning funeral.

Several other former assistant secretaries, sitting ambassadors, and members of the international Iran policy community all traveled back to pay respects to Dibble. President Barack Obama sent a letter to his wife Liz, which was read aloud at the funeral. There was also a eulogy and readings by former Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Janet Bogue, former senior foreign service officer Gretchen Welch and members of his family.

“It’s been a very emotional day for us,” said one State Department official who knew him well. “There was a lot of affection for him at the NEA bureau. It was very warm that the secretary was there. It really looked like the department came together as a family.”

Dibble’s most recent service was as deputy assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, covering Iran issues. He came out of retirement to take the post, replacing John Limbert. From 2005 to 2008, Dibble had served as principal deputy assistant secretary of State for International Organization Affairs under then Assistant Secretary Kristen Silverberg, who was also at the funeral today.

Dibble’s final success in his long career as a diplomat was to see the American hikers Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, both 29, released from an Iranian prison last month after more than two years of being held on trumped-up charges.

“He deserves big kudos for helping make that happen,” one State Department official said, explaining that Dibble was the point person in dealing with the Swiss, the Omanis, and several other interlocutors involved in freeing the hikers. He was also heavily involved in the issue of human rights in Iran, the official said.

Dibble, who was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, also previous served as deputy assistant secretary in NEA from 2003 until 2005, and as deputy chief of mission in Syria from 2001 to 2003. His overseas tour included stints in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia, Italy and Pakistan. He also served as director of the office of northern Gulf affairs, deputy director of the office of Egyptian and North African affairs, special assistant in the Office of the Undersecretary of State for economic, business and agricultural affairs, and as financial economist in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, and Lebanon desk officer.

Several State Department employees said Dibble will be remembered for his steady presence in dangerous places, his tireless work on human rights, and for his unique personality, which combined a warm demeanor with a dry wit.

“He was a man of few words, but when he spoke it was very purposeful and he said more in those few words than a lot of us who talk a lot but don’t say as much,” one State Department official said today. “I’ll remember him for his sense of humor and his common sense.”

Dibble was a graduate of St. John’s College and held a masters degree from the Johns Hopkins University.

He is survived by his wife, Liz Dibble, NEA’s principal deputy assistant secretary, and three daughters. He was 60 years old.

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