From Macon to Mongolia: An Ambassador's Journey

For Jonathan Addleton and his family, home has been many places over the last 25 years: Cambodia, Yemen, Pakistan, Jordan, South Africa, Kazakhstan and now Mongolia, where he is the new U.S. ambassador.

But his deepest roots are in Middle Georgia near Macon, where he owns a home on Ben Hill Drive. It is named after his grandfather, Ben Addleton, a farmer and railroad carpenter who bought 120 acres in the early 1940s near the Bibb-Jones County line.

“It was indeed a working farm and my father remembers plowing with a mule,” Dr. Addleton told GlobalAtlanta in an interview at his Georgia home.

The dirt road leading to the farm was always called Ben’s Hill. It was eventually paved and given a somewhat fancier name. But for Dr. Addleton, it is the family headquarters, where his parents live and where he always returns between assignments across the world.

Dr. Addleton was born in Pakistan, where his parents were Christian missionaries, and he spent much of his childhood there. He earned a journalism degree from Northwestern University and later a doctorate in international studies from Tufts University, specializing in the economics of migration, before joining the U.S. Agency for International Development, which helps countries fight poverty and institute democratic reforms.

With USAID, Dr. Addleton lived all over the world, including three years in Mongolia. In 1985, he met his wife, Fiona, who is originally from Scotland, in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. It was his first assignment with USAID. She was a teacher at the British School there.

Dr. Addleton was not expecting to become a U.S. ambassador since his career has been in a specialized agency, not the U.S. State Department proper.

He was also surprised by the fact that he was named an ambassador to a country where he previously served, which is not a customary practice. Yet he enjoyed his previous service in Mongolia and is happy to be back there, even if the temperature sometimes reaches 40 below zero.
“Winter is not as bad as you would expect,” said Dr. Addleton, who assumed his new post in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, in November just as the cold weather approached. “It’s clear skies all the time. You don’t have those short, damp European kinds of winters. It’s blue sky all the time.”

Mr. Addleton’s 15-year-old daughter, Catriona, who was born in Macon and is now a ninth grader at the International School of Ulaanbaatar, also has good things to say about the Mongolian weather.

"There is a new ski resort just outside Ulaanbaatar that has a chair lift, three slopes and equipment for snowboarding as well as skiing,” she told GlobalAtlanta. “I can't wait to try it out."

Mongolia, situated between Russia and China, is an exotic country with a long history. “The founding father was Genghis Khan,” said Dr. Addleton.

Larger than Alaska, it has fewer than 3 million people, many of whom are nomads, raising yaks, camels, sheep and Cashmere goats.

Even in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, half the people live in round tents called "gers," better known outside Mongolia as "yurts."

Mongolia became part of the Soviet Union's orbit in the 1920s but is now a market-based democracy with growing revenues from mining coal, copper, gold, uranium and other minerals.

“It’s got traffic jams, it’s got air issues,” Dr. Addleton said of the Mongolian capital.

The evolving economy of Mongolia presents great opportunity for American business, said Dr. Addleton, noting that mining industry in particular is poised to expand rapidly. There is only about $100 million in annual trade currently between Mongolia and the U.S., the ambassador said. In comparison, Panama, with a similar population, has $5 billion in annual trade with the U.S.

“Coca-Cola was one of the early arrivals,” he said. “There are now two Coca-Cola bottling plants. A lot of the exports from the U.S. right now are in the consumer goods area and mining equipment. So in this area, there are prospects for American companies.”

Tourism is also a growing field in Mongolia, particularly adventure tours, with companies offering guided trips, some that include overnight stays with nomad families.

Dr. Addleton expects to do a three-year tour as ambassador in Mongolia before leaving for another assignment.

Macon remains the family’s base of operations. Dr. Addleton's sister, Nancy White, is a member of the Macon City Council. His oldest son, Iain, is a sophomore at Davidson College in North Carolina and graduated from Mt. DeSales Academy, a high school in Macon, in 2008.

Another son, Cameron, is currently finishing up high school at Mt. DeSales, staying with his grandparents on Ben Hill Road.

“We always return to Middle Georgia,” Dr. Addleton said.

By David Beasley Atlanta - 12.08.09


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