Foy David Kohler
Foy David Kohler was born in Oakwood, Ohio on February 15, 1908. Kohler served as President of the 4th Senate of the Student Senate at Ohio State University from 1930-1931.
In 1935 he married Phyllis Penn in Bucharest, Romania. The Kohlers served at U.S. Embassies in Bucharest, Belgrade, Athens, London, Cairo and Moscow. Following a time as Director of the Voice of America, Foy Kohler was named John F. Kennedy’s Ambassador to the U.S.S.R where he served with considerable distinction during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
He was a member of: Council on Foreign Relations, Beta Gamma Sigma, Delta Upsilon and Phi Beta Kappa. He died in Jupiter, Florida on December 23, 1990.
Kohler was U.S. ambassador to Soviet Union
by Georgia Kohart Defiance, Ohio Crescent-News
OAKWOOD – The premier of the Kevin Kostner movie production Thirteen Days, based on the book by Robert Kennedy, elicited a new wave of interest in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The event that brought two world powers to the brink of nuclear warfare seems far removed by years and geographical distance from northwest Ohio. However, one of the key players in the delicate dance of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union in October 1962 was born in Oakwood.
Foy David Kohler was born in the small Paulding County village on Feb. 15, 1908. His family relocated to Toledo when he was young boy, with his summers spent visiting relatives back in Oakwood. Kohler attended the University of Toledo and as a young man, he and his first cousin, the late T. Frank Kohart, of Oakwood, spent a brief stint as bank tellers at a Toledo bank. When the depression hit, Kohart returned home to help with the family farm, while Kohler headed off for Ohio State University. In 1931 he received his BS in foreign studies and entered the American Foreign Service. His assignments included Vice Consul and Secretary of Legation in Windsor, Canada; Belgrade, Yugoslavia; Bucharest, Romania; Athens, Greece; and Cairo, Egypt. In 1935 he married Phyllis Penn of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Kohler’s training in Russian studies at Cornell University in 1946 prepared him for his first post in Moscow as counselor of embassy between 1947 and 1949. His career as a Foreign Service officer spanned 36 years – from 1931 – 1967, attaining the permanent rank of Career Ambassador in 1966. President Kennedy appointed Kohler as the new US ambassador to the Soviet Union when the U.S., known as the melting pot, was about to become a seething cauldron of international intrigue.
Kohler and his wife, Phyllis, never had children and there are few close relatives left that remember the well-traveled Ohio native. Two of Kohler’s cousin’s, children, Ann Kohart Miller and Tim Kohart, both reside near Oakwood and remember visits with Kohler.
“Foy’s mother, my Great Aunt Myrtle Kohler and my father’s mother, Ida Ellen McClure, were sisters,” Kohart says. “I was about seven when Foy was appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union and Aunt Myrt had a going away party for him at her home in Sylvania. A week after that, I got home from school one day and turned on the TV. NBC had a little afternoon thing where they gave the headlines and there was Foy sitting in the Oval Office next to President Kennedy. I was so excited, I hollered to my sisters, ‘Foy’s on TV! Come and look! Foy’s on TV!’” Kohart continues, “They announced that President Kennedy was giving instructions to his new ambassador to the Soviet Union before he departed.”
On Friday, Sept. 7, 1962, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette published a photo of Kohler’s meeting with President Kennedy in the Oval Office before his departure for Moscow. The news brief aired only a few weeks before the President was to learn that Soviet missiles were being constructed in Castro’s Cuba. Kennedy responded in a non-aggressive manner, hoping to avoid any military action. After 13 taut days of walking a diplomatic tightrope, the Soviets acquiesced and the missiles were removed.
“It was just a matter of a couple weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Kohart says, “so he (Kohler) got a baptism of fire, although by that time he was a very seasoned statesman by that time.”
The 11th American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Kohart and his wife’s official residence in Moscow was the Spaso House, named for Spasopeskovskaya Square, the park in which it was located. The massive mansion was two and a half centuries old at that time. While there, Mrs. Kohler undertook a complete remodeling and redecoration of the home, the first since he U.S. began leasing the structure during the 1930’s. Nikita Khrushchev would visit at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination to sign a book of condolences.
It was almost a decade later that Kohart spoke again with Kohler, although the Kohlers and the Kohart family stayed in contact over the years.
“It was probably around 1970 the next time I had a chance to talk with Foy. He and Phyllis were in Ohio for a visit and they came out to see us. He was a professor at the University of Miami and I had developed an interest in politics and history by that time. I asked, what I realized later was a pretty stupid question,” Kohart laughs, remembering. “I asked him what he remembered about the Cuban Missile Crisis and he just laughed because he thought it was a really funny question. Of course he remembered everything, but wasn’t able to tell me a lot because it was still classified information at that time.
He said ‘Well, the one thing that has always stood out in my mind is that I had sent an ultimatum to the Kremlin direct from President Kennedy that stated get the missiles out of Cuba immediately. Khrushchev obviously took it very seriously because a response came back by special messenger in a matter of minutes and it was a hand-written note in Khrushchev’s own handwriting. It said that the Soviet Union would comply and begin dismantling the missiles immediately.’” Kohart continues, “The thing that Foy found to be so significant was that he had never seen a hand written message from Khrushchev. Before that point all documents were formal typewritten documents from the Kremlin. It was obvious that Khrushchev took the ultimatum very seriously.”
After a long illustrious career in consular services, serving under every president from Roosevelt to Johnson, Kohler retired in 1967, from his position as Deputy under Secretary of State.
“I remember him talking about how surprised he was when Svetlana Stalin, who was a political outcast, came to the U.S.,” Miller recalls. “He received a call that she was on her way and it was his duty to contact the Soviet ambassador, Dobrynin, and inform him of her intentions.”
Kohler relocated to Florida and in January 1968, where he became a professor of international studies at the Center for Advanced International Studies of the University of Miami, Coral Gables. Kohler died in Florida in 1990.
“I remember reading a quote by Robert Kennedy,” Kohart says, “when someone asked him what job he would like best he replied ‘I would love to have Foy Kohler’s job.”
[Used with permission. Defiance Crescent-News. January 28, 2001. Defiance, Ohio]