The U.S. Institute of Peace mourns the passing of Phyllis Oakley, a distinguished diplomat who advanced the role of American women in international diplomacy and served as an ex officio member of the Institute’s Board of Directors in the late 1990s as an assistant secretary of state.
Oakley’s 25-year career as a U.S. diplomat was delayed by a policy that until 1974 barred married women from serving in official State Department positions. Oakley was married to Ambassador Robert B. Oakley, who later contributed to USIP’s work in the Middle East, particularly on Somalia. Phyllis Oakley worked for years on Afghanistan during and after the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, including on humanitarian aid to the country after the Soviet withdrawal. She twice served as an assistant secretary of state.
As assistant secretary guiding U.S. policy on refugee issues, Oakley spoke at a 1994 USIP conference on the new roles, following the Cold War, played by nongovernment organizations in conflict zones worldwide. From 1997 until 1999, the State Department designated her a member of the USIP Board of Directors, a role in which she thoughtfully contributed her knowledge and experience of decades to the Institute’s work on disparate violent conflicts.