Sir Jeffrey Petersen

Diplomat of great ability


Jeffrey Charles Petersen, diplomat: born London 20 July 1920; CMG 1968, KCMG 1978; Minister (Commercial), Rio de Janeiro 1968-71; ambassador to Republic of Korea 1971-74; ambassador to Romania 1975-77; ambassador to Sweden 1977-80; married 1944 Catherine Bayly (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1955), 1962 Karin Hayward (one son, three daughters); died Canterbury 14 October 2006.

One of the features of the British diplomatic service as I knew it was that it had quality in depth. This meant among other things that heads of mission in countries which were far away or seldom newsworthy in the British media were often men and women of great ability. Jeffrey Petersen, who was successively ambassador in Seoul, Bucharest and Stockholm, was one such.

He came from humble beginnings. Born in London in 1920, to parents who lived in rented accommodation in Finsbury Park, later moving out to Westcliff-on-Sea, he spent a year after school in a mundane job, not having been considered "university material". He joined the Naval Reserves, following a boyhood enthusiasm for sailing, and at the outbreak of the Second World War enlisted in the Navy.

His war years were spent on the anti-submarine corvette Snapdragon. Convoy duty in the North Atlantic was a tedious and occasionally dangerous business, and Sub-Lt Petersen spent the time between bouts of seasickness reading - he said he learned more like this than in 10 years of formal education. He later became a Liaison Officer in Cairo, where he met Catherine (Kate) Bayly, a Waaf officer. Their marriage produced two children, but, like so many partnerships made during the war, it didn't prosper in peacetime and was dissolved in 1959.

He left the Navy in 1946, and studied PPE at the London School of Economics. Persuaded to sit the Civil Service Entry examination in 1947, he passed among the highest three entrants that year, a distinction that drew him to the attention of the Foreign Office. One interview secured his entry and he went to his first foreign posting in Madrid as Second Secretary in 1949.

His work with the Foreign Office then took him to Ankara and Brussels, and he met his second wife, Karin Hayward, at the Laos conference in Geneva in 1961; their marriage was to produce four children. There followed a variety of postings including a lively introduction to diplomatic life for Karin in the Jakarta riots of 1963. After Indonesia, the Petersens were posted to Greece and Brazil, and Jeffrey's career culminated in ambassadorships to South Korea, Romania and Sweden.

I first met Jeffrey Petersen in Geneva in 1959. He was a member of the British delegation to a United Nations conference on economic and social affairs and seemed to have plenty of time for swimming. I belonged to the delegation to a conference on nuclear tests whose ethos was one of intense seriousness. I envied Petersen his freer life. But I was also struck by his friendliness to everyone he met; there was absolutely nothing pompous about him.

Two years later Petersen became my immediate senior as the assistant (deputy head) of the South East Asia Department in the Foreign Office. Never fussy or impatient, he was a fount of shrewd advice. He particularly enjoyed the eccentricity of some of the political leaders in Laos and Cambodia, such as the enthusiasm of Prince Souvanna Phouma for English pipe tobacco and the fondness of Prince Norodom Sihanouk for big band jazz.

Our paths then diverged. In 1972 I found him at the other end of the wire, as ambassador in Seoul, when I became head of the Far Eastern Department. His telegrams, letters and despatches showed that he was enjoying himself, and also that he had become expert in the politics, national and international, of the Republic of Korea.

In 1977, after two years in Bucharest, Petersen was appointed ambassador to Sweden, where I was the second-in-command in the Stockholm embassy. He took to the city, pleased that there were so many lakes and waterways in which he could sail his small yacht.

Petersen was particularly interested in Sweden's commercial life. One of his first industrial visits was to the headquarters and factory of Volvo in Gothenburg, where he and I underwent a startling experience. The lunch that followed our tour of the factory was interrupted by a flustered messenger. The head of the company excused himself and disappeared. We heard later that he had been arranging for the formal arrest of a group of foreigners who had been photographing the main assembly line through overhead windows: one of our hosts told us that Volvo was often a target for industrial espionage.

From the outset of his career, Petersen had taken an interest in the economic life of the countries in which he worked. This had led to his appointment in 1968 as economic minister in Rio de Janeiro. After he retired from diplomacy in 1980 he was offered a variety of commercial posts; three of these concerned North Sea Oil, banking in Spain and manufacturing in Sweden.

Petersen listed his hobbies in Who's Who as painting, sailing, butterfly collecting and totting. He first sailed as a boy in the Thames Estuary in a dinghy built from hobby plans. Later in life, with Karin as enthusiastic first mate, he undertook some epic trips in the Java Sea. His interest in butterflies was sparked in his childhood by the eccentric curator of a local museum, who would set out across the fields on butterfly-catching expeditions dressed in a formal suit and bowler hat.

He loved painting, and recorded the places he lived in, predominantly in oils. He enjoyed colour and was a quick and skilful draughtsman who would sometimes amuse his children by sketching cartoons of family outings.

Richard Evans

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003