The Secret Life of an American Diplomat: Facing a Firing Squad in Africa, Living in Communist Romania, Leading the US Peace Corps, Fighting Fires, & More

Jay Katzen has lived a truly incredible life of service, both foreign and domestic. Serving as a Foreign Service Officer posted in Australia, Burundi, Congo, communist Romania, Mali, at the United Nations, and at the White House, Katzen has much to tell about his lessons, hardships, and triumphs. Katzen has lived what would seem to be many lives: Heading an NGO to assist Rwandan refugees in eastern Congo – treating disease and motivating his team members – who had to bury over 18,000 Rwandans; Serving as Chief of Operations of the Peace Corps in D.C, and concurrently as Regional Director, overseeing 19 programs in Europe, the Mediterranean area, and Asia; Holding various political positions, including appointment and confirmation by President Reagan as Vice Chairman of the Board of the African Development Foundation, Precinct Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna borough’s Republican Committee, and working to draft the foreign affairs platform at the Republican Convention in 1978. Today, Jay Katzen serves as a National Park Ranger at Denali National Park.

Jay Katzen has served as a National Park Service Ranger at the Talkeetna Alaska station of Denali National Park and Preserve since 2011. From August 2005 to May 2006, Katzen served as Acting Chief of Staff/Chief of Operations of the Peace Corps in Washington D.C. From February 2004 to January 2009, Jay concurrently served as the Peace Corps’ Regional Director, overseeing 19 programs in Europe, the Mediterranean area, and Asia.

Previously, in 2003, Katzen was chosen in a national search to become CEO and President of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, charged by Congress and the White House to erect a memorial in Washington to the over 100 million victims of communism. The monument was unveiled and dedicated by the Foundation’s Honorary Chairman, President George W. Bush, in June 2007.

In 1990, Katzen was appointed by President Reagan and confirmed by the Senate as Vice Chairman of the Board of the African Development Foundation, and served in that post for two years.

From 1959 to 1979, Katzen served as a career Foreign Service Officer, posted in Australia, Burundi, Congo (Kinshasa), communist Romania, Mali, at the United Nations in New York, at the White House and in Congo (Brazzaville). His responsibilities included political and economic reporting, labor affairs, multilateral negotiation, consular affairs, promoting American business and overall management. He served as Charge d’Affaires at two challenging posts.

Katzen speaks five foreign languages—French, Romanian, Swahili, Lingala and Kirundi.

In 2015, Jay served as precinct chairman then vice-chairman of Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna borough’s Republican Committee. In 2016, he was chosen as a delegate for the State Convention in Fairbanks and, subsequently, was a delegate at the National Convention in Cleveland.

Katzen was nominee for Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor in 2001. Jay also was GOP nominee for Congress in Virginia’s Ninth District in 2002.

Katzen knocked on 14,128 doors in 1993 and was elected as the first Republican to represent the 31st legislative district of Fauquier, Rappahannock, and Warren counties in Virginia’s House of Delegates. He was chosen Freshman class President, party whip, and co-patroned over 3,000 bills, including landmark legislation improving the quality of Virginia’s education and reforming welfare and law enforcement, while not raising taxes and protecting the Constitution. He served in leadership positions on the Finance, Education, and Agriculture Committees. He was re-elected three times.

Shortly after his first election, Katzen headed an NGO team to assist Rwandan refugees in eastern Congo. In highly challenging conditions, Katzen treated disease victims and motivated his team members. Tragically, the team buried 18,000 Rwandans who were found dead prior to its arrival.

Jay participated in the drafting of the foreign affairs platform at the 1984 Republican Convention. He was chairman of the Fauquier County, Virginia GOP Committee, was a full-time volunteer, then paid advisor on Issues at HQ in the 1992 Bush/Quayle campaign, attended the Houston Convention, and was an Alternate Delegate at the GOP Convention in Philadelphia.

From 1979 to 1991, Katzen served in New York as senior advisor reporting directly to the chairman of corporations including Bechtel, Consolidated Gold Fields, Fluor, Kennecott, Newmont Mining, and Phelps Dodge.

Katzen was named the Family Foundation’s Legislator of the Year. He has been recognized by the National Rifle Association, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Vietnam Veterans of America, Virginia’s Council on Indians, 4-H, the Virginia Society for Human Life, and Virginia’s Armenian community. He served as chairman of the Rappahannock River Basin Commission, and as a board member of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. He is recipient of several Boy Scouts of America awards. Katzen also has received awards from the National Park Service. He is a past president of his local Lions Club International and has been a member of Rotary International.

He was awarded the Philo Sherman Bennett Prize for his publication on “The Communist Movement in Greece, 1941-1951.”

Jay and his wife of 55 years, Paddy, are residents of the State of Alaska. He is proud to serve as Chairman of the Board of Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, and is a board member of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. He and Paddy are active members of the Iditarod Trails Committee. Paddy earlier served as Assistant Secretary of Natural Resources in Virginia. The Katzens have three grown sons, all Eagle Scouts, and six grandchildren.

Date(s) – Thursday, September 19, 2019
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

49th State Brewing Company

Ammon Swenson is Alaska Public Media’s Audio Media Content Producer. He was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. He graduated from UAA in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and integrated media. He’s previously worked for KRUA radio, the Anchorage Press, and The Northern Light.

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