Terence A. Todman, a St. Thomas-born career foreign service officer, died Wednesday at Roy L. Schneider Hospital. He was 88.
In a press release Wednesday, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said, “Cecile and I join the people of the Virgin Islands in mourning the death of Ambassador Todman and in extending our condolences to Mrs. Doris Todman and the entire family.”
“We have lost a tremendous individual and son of our soil, a person that made his presence known internationally but never lost touch with his roots and his home,” deJongh said, adding that Todman was a quiet force in the community on many levels.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen said Todman was a trailblazer who opened the doors for young people who aspire to his level of excellence and dedication to the country.
“A native son of St. Thomas, Career Ambassador Todman is credited with guiding our country through some difficult relationships and challenges and he paved the way for other people of color to succeed and eventually hold leadership positions in the U.S. State Department,” Christensen said.
Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis said he got to know Todman when he served as Veterans Affairs director.
“His military service and experiences made him particularly sensitive to the plight of the territory’s veterans. Many of our conversations involved how we could better serve those in need,” Francis said.
DeJongh noted that, during a diplomatic career that spanned four decades, Todman served in nearly a dozen countries – six as a United States ambassador. During a decorated career, he rose to the rank of career ambassador, the state department’s highest position.
Todman served more than 20 years on the University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees, and the university named a chair in his honor. He received an honorary doctorate from UVI at the 2013 graduation ceremony.
In July, the Legislature passed a bill naming the university’s St. Thomas campus, as well as the airport access road numbered Route 302, in Todman’s honor.
Todman was born on March 13, 1926, to Rachel Callwood and Alphonso Todman. One of 13 siblings, he attended public school, graduating in 1944 from Charlotte Amalie High School. Todman attended Puerto Rico’s Inter-American University but dropped out within a year to serve as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.
He was sent to Japan, which had just surrendered in World War II following the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During four years in Japan, Todman became a first lieutenant. Years later, his service overseas earned him a place in the Infantry Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Ga.
In 1949, Todman returned to Inter-American University and earned a degree in political science. His experiences in Japan and in Puerto Rico fueled an interest in international relations and Todman decided to pursue a diplomatic career. He continued his education with a master’s degree in public administration from New York’s Syracuse University in 1953.
While a student, Todman worked for the State Department as an international relations officer in the Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs department. After graduating, he moved to Washington, D.C., and enrolled in post-graduate political science courses at American University, a private school well known for its emphasis on public service careers.
At about the same time, he married Doris Weston, also of St. Thomas. They are the parents of Terence, Patricia, Kathryn and Michael.
He served for three years on the State Department’s delegation to the United Nations, holding a variety of officer and advisory positions with the UN, particularly in the area of rural and economic development. Todman also helped develop timetables for the independence of former colonial areas in Africa. His first overseas post was in 1957 as a political officer in the U.S. embassy in Delhi, India.
Todman held political officer positions in the American embassies in Lebanon and Tunisia between 1959 and 1964. He was then promoted to chief of mission and sent to the U.S. embassy in Togo, West Africa. In 1968, he returned to Washington, where he served as the officer for East African affairs, covering Kenya, Tanzania Uganda, and the Seychelles Islands.
Todman accepted his first ambassadorship in 1969 when he became the ambassador of the American embassy in the Republic of Chad, a central African nation whose main languages are Arabic and French. Todman left Chad in 1972 to become the American ambassador in Guinea, located in northwest Africa.
In 1975, he was appointed ambassador to Costa Rica, the first African American to serve in such a position in Latin America. After two years as ambassador, Todman became assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs. In that role he helped broker the Panama Canal Treaty and worked with Cuba to develop U.S. interests and maritime and fishing agreements. In 1978, Todman moved into the upper echelon of diplomatic assignments when he was named ambassador to Spain by then-President Jimmy Carter.
In 1983, Todman was asked to serve as ambassador to South Africa. He refused on the grounds that he could not support then-President Ronald Reagan’s stance on apartheid, the South African political policy of racial segregation. Instead, Todman accepted an ambassadorship to Denmark, a position he held for six years.
In 1989, Todman returned to the United States where President George H. W. Bush named him a career ambassador. Equivalent to the military’s four-star general, career ambassador is the state department’s highest rank. Following the appointment, Todman moved directly into his last diplomatic assignment as ambassador to Argentina, a post he held until 1993. During his time in Argentina, Todman worked extensively on promoting American business interests there.
Todman retired from the State Department in August 1993. Like many former diplomats, he established an international consultancy business, Todman and Associates. Todman also served as an advisor to former Gov. Roy L. Schneider and as a consultant to both U.S. and Argentinean companies.
In 2003, Todman returned to the diplomatic arena and was named a special envoy by the Organization of American States to promote democracy in Haiti. He remained active in international affairs well into 2005.
“I hope that the ambition and the accomplishments of Ambassador Todman will inspire our young people – that they will realize there are no limits to what they can achieve through education and determination. Today, a grateful community mourns with his family and prays that he attains eternal rest,” deJongh said.
Todman’s accolades include the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the National Public Service Award, the Department of State’s Superior Service Honor Award and the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award. Todman has been decorated by the governments of Argentina, Denmark, Spain, Chad and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 1997, he received the U.S. Department of State’s Director General’s Cup.
In Todman’s honor, deJongh directed that flags on all public buildings in the Virgin Islands be flown at half-staff until sunset of the day of Todman’s interment.