It is with the deepest sadness that the U.S. Institute of Peace mourns the passing of our revered and distinguished colleague Ambassador Princeton Lyman, the Institute’s advisor emeritus. Princeton passed away quietly in his home on the morning of August 24, surrounded by his family.
He served as a senior advisor at USIP from 2013 to July 2018, when he stepped down from his day-to-day role and became the Institute’s first advisor emeritus. A lifelong public servant of the highest integrity and a tireless advocate for peace, Princeton made immense contributions to U.S. foreign policy as well as the Institute and its work to prevent violent conflict.
“We have been so fortunate to have Princeton as a senior advisor at the Institute for the past five years, and I am personally grateful to count him as a great friend and trusted advisor for many years before that,” said USIP President Nancy Lindborg. “Princeton’s wealth of knowledge and experience have made him an invaluable resource to this organization, and he has helped us expand USIP’s programs all over the world, especially in Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria and China.”
From South Africa to South Sudan: A True Friend of the Continent
Ambassador Lyman had a storied career as a diplomat and was on the ground for some of the most important moments in modern African history, including serving as U.S. ambassador to South Africa during its transition from apartheid to democracy. He was also the U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan when South Sudan became a country and led U.S. policy in helping in the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Ambassador Lyman was also a monumental figure in U.S. Africa policy. He held posts as U.S. Agency for International Development director in Ethiopia, (1976-1978) deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs (1981-1986), U.S. ambassador to Nigeria (1986-1989), director of refugee programs (1989-1992), and assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs (1996-1998).
As U.S. ambassador to South Africa, his steady hand helped keep negotiations going between the principal leaders of South Africa during a volatile moment in the country’s transition. “Princeton became an important mediator bringing parties together, hoping to arrive at a shared understanding of what the future might look like,” said Ambassador George Moose, who was assistant secretary of state for African affairs at the time. “He was very much the confidant of both parties, and they trusted him.”
“At the time, no one thought the South African situation was going to end peacefully,” Ambassador Moose, the vice chair of USIP’s Board of Directors, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Princeton helped Washington understand what the path could look like and his role was very much underreported and underappreciated. He faced two difficult challenges. First, he had to convince skeptical policymakers in Washington that the project to bring about a peaceful end to apartheid could actually succeed. The second, more difficult challenge was to reassure the South Africans that they could do it. That Princeton was able to do both was an extraordinary diplomatic achievement, one that was only possible because of the credibility he enjoyed with all concerned," added Ambassador Moose.
Ambassador Lyman's 2002 book, Partner to History: The U.S. Role in South Africa’s Transition to Democracy, reveals the role played by U.S. diplomacy in South Africa's successful transition. He makes clear that America didn't "own" the transition process, rather the South Africans did. But U.S. involvement was active and intense—and it made a difference. He tells an enthralling story of how Washington policymakers and the American embassy used U.S. influence, economic assistance, and political support to help end apartheid without sparking civil war. The book takes readers behind the diplomatic scenes as well as onto the public stage, as American diplomats strove to facilitate dialogue, encourage reconciliation, and dissuade potential spoilers.
Listen to Ambassador Lyman recount his experience in African affairs, including his perspective on the end of apartheid in South Africa and the prospects for peace in the Sudans.
As special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Lyman was the focal point for U.S. policy and engagement with both countries’ governments on the independence of South Sudan and the negotiations on the relationship between the two countries following secession. He remained the "go-to" person on Sudan and South Sudan in Washington since serving as special envoy. He always made time to meet with government officials from both countries and, in every conversation, he was firm in his message that they had a responsibility to deliver a better life for their citizens and encouraged them to imagine that there was a way that wasn’t a zero-sum prospect.
Even in April this year, Ambassador Lyman had discussions with senior African officials to encourage them to keep South Sudan on their agenda. He underlined that it was all of our responsibility to ensure that the terrible humanitarian crisis came to an end—and that could only be done by finding a political settlement. He was appreciated not just by the government officials but by the many Sudanese and South Sudanese who were working for a better future for their countries. He championed an active role for women in the post-secession negotiations and helped to open doors so that their ideas, voices and insights could be heard.
A Consummate Diplomat
In all aspects of life, Ambassador Lyman embodied the best qualities of a diplomat and was renowned for his kindness, humility and willingness to mentor younger colleagues. He was fond of saying that friends in diplomacy have to be honest with one another—even if it is not what the other person wants to hear.
He joined the foreign service in 1961 and was assigned to work in Korea for the U.S. Agency for International Development. But, by the 1970s, the ambassador had shifted his focus to Africa. In total, he spent 40 years in the U.S. diplomatic service.
“I mourn the loss of my friend and colleague who established the gold standard for public service,” said Chester Crocker, who served as the U.S assistant secretary of state for Africa during the Reagan administration. “No diplomat of his generation was more creative in finding positive strategies for advancing humanitarian goals, even in the face of seemingly insuperable political obstacles. A warm and deeply caring person, his passing will be mourned by all who experienced his principled skills and engaging personality,” said Crocker, who also served for 12 years as chairman of USIP's Board of Directors.
Contributions to the Institute
Ambassador Lyman brought his unsurpassed knowledge of U.S. foreign policy and Africa to USIP in 2013. He leveraged his reputation and contacts to help further the work of the Institute, particularly the Africa program. In addition to supporting and expanding USIP's work in Sudan, South Sudan, and Nigeria, Ambassador Lyman also paved the way to doing work around the Red Sea and he worked with the Institute's Asia Center to expand its China program.
He regularly testified before Congress on Sudan, South Sudan, and U.S. sanctions policy in sub-Saharan Africa. Always willing to share his immense knowledge with the next generation of peacebuilders, Ambassador Lyman used his experience as a special envoy to write a 2014 USIP Special Report on how such envoys can most effectively be deployed.
“From his decades in the foreign service to his time at USIP, Princeton was an outstanding colleague and friend, who was a master of the art of diplomacy,” said Ambassador Johnnie Carson, a senior advisor at USIP. “He was a critical figure in U.S. diplomacy in Africa and made tremendous contributions to USIP and its work there. He will be greatly missed by the many, many individuals he mentored, advised and befriended around the world,” added Ambassador Carson, who also served in the U.S. foreign service for nearly four decades.
The ambassador was also a prolific scholar and author, publishing books and articles on foreign policy, African affairs, economic development, HIV/AIDS, U.N. reform, and peacekeeping.
“Princeton never stopped pursuing a more peaceful world, always pushing for a better understanding and more effective action. He was deeply committed to supporting the next generation of leaders. He will be missed enormously,” said Nancy Lindborg.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. He was married to his first wife, Helen Ermann, for 50 years before she passed away in 2008. Princeton leaves behind his wife since 2009, Lois Hobson of Silver Spring; three daughters from his first marriage, Tova Brinn of Safed, Israel, Sheri Laigle of Silver Spring and Lori Bruun of Columbia, Maryland; a brother; a sister; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.