Last week I lost a friend, Robert J. “Bud” Korengold.* While we were not close, I greatly admired him. I first made his acquaintance when I was a Russian area studies major at Yale, and he was the Newsweek correspondent in Moscow. Back then, our acquaintanceship was one-way. I knew who he was; he had no reason to know anything about this one individual out of the thousands who were reading his reports.
Why was I following Bud’s reporting? For a couple of reasons. First, I was intensely interested in the Soviet Union, and Bud’s coverage of contemporary life and events there shed valuable light on the country I was studying. His reports were also much more fun than some of the academic tomes on my reading list at the time. Bud was a terrific writer; his articles were easy, enjoyable reading. Second, I was then contemplating the possibility of a career in journalism, one that (if I pursued it, which I never did) would ideally include a stint as a foreign correspondent in Moscow. I thought it would be the experience of a lifetime to live and work in the Soviet Union, observe day-to-day life in our country’s greatest adversary, and report back to my fellow Americans insights that could only be gained from first-hand experience. (As it turned out, I did later get the opportunity to live and work in the USSR, but as a diplomat, not a journalist.)
Roughly a decade and a half after graduating from college, when working at the headquarters of the U.S. Information Agency in Washington, D.C., I was named desk officer for the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). I quickly discovered that “my” public affairs officer (PAO) at the U.S. embassy in Brussels was Bud Korengold.
I wondered if this was the same guy I had known as Robert J. Korengold, the former Newsweek correspondent in Moscow. It was. Bud had left journalism and joined the USIA. He turned out to be a warm, friendly colleague who soon rose to the top of the USIA’s Foreign Service officer corps. Following his assignment in Brussels, he served as our PAO in London and Paris — two plum assignments that would go to only the most professional and perceptive of diplomats.
It was at this time that Bud paid me one of the finest compliments I’ve ever received. Like all PAOs, he’d send periodic reports to USIA headquarters. Unlike many other reports, Bud’s were always a pleasure to read. As desk officer, I saw all correspondence between USIA HQ and “my” embassies. Once, in one of Bud’s reports, I realized he’d neglected to mention something that I knew would be of interest in Washington. After I alerted him, he sent me a quick message: “Every good writer needs a good editor” — a compliment that, coming from the best writer I’ve ever personally known, I’ve treasured ever since.
In more recent years, Bud stayed in touch with me, sending supportive messages from time to time on Facebook and via email.
Bud’s Prolific Writing
In a blurb for the Hall of Achievement at his alma mater, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Bud described himself, with characteristic modesty, as a “former just about anything.” The blurb went on to report that Bud was a Minnesota native and Korean War veteran who “moved to Europe in 1955 after serving one year in New Orleans as editor of the U.S. 8th Naval District magazine, The Word.”
What, you may ask, does someone who’s had a distinguished career in both journalism and diplomacy do upon retirement? If you’re Bud Korengold, you take up residence in Normandy with your French wife, Christine (whom Bud met in Moscow when she was working for the French embassy there), and keep writing.
In Normandy, Bud spent years “writing reflections about life in France and with the French” as the senior correspondent for the [English-language] website www.BonjourParis.com.
One of his most interesting stories describes his meeting, in Moscow in 1959, with Lee Harvey Oswald, who four years later gained notoriety by assassinating President John F. Kennedy. At the time, Bud was Moscow bureau chief for United Press International (UPI), an assignment that preceded his work for Newsweek. Oswald, who had gone to Moscow to defect to the USSR, had visited the U.S. embassy to renounce his American citizenship, and someone at the embassy alerted Bud to this “man-bites-dog” story. Bud tried (unsuccessfully) to interview Oswald in his hotel room. After Oswald rebuffed him, Bud sent a female UPI colleague to Oswald’s hotel, and she charmed him into an interview. Bud recounts the story — and the 1963 follow-up story of trying to alert UPI to Oswald’s USSR connection in the frenzied hours following JFK’s assassination.
This was just one of the more than 80 interesting stories that Bud wrote for BonjourParis. Intended primarily for the American expatriate community in France, they covered a wide range of topics. Some of them are quite amusing, and I highly recommend several to get the flavor of Bud’s writing:
- The travails of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner in France
- The Super Bowl Strikes France
- Gems from the memoirs of the French pastry chef who served five U.S. presidents
- Recollection of a memorable encounter with President Ronald Reagan
I want to conclude this appreciation of Bud with a link to an article he wrote in 2006, tying together two dissimilar stories — his experience flying with the first planeload of refugees to the U.S. following the brutal Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and his encounter, shortly before that, with an American pilgrim to the Catholic shrine at Lourdes, France. Bud had written an article about Lourdes just before joining the Hungarian refugees and, as he was about to get on the plane with them, he mailed a copy of that article to a woman about whom he had written after interviewing her at the shrine. When he returned to Paris following his flight with the Hungarians, he found a letter from the woman he’d written about.
Here is how Bud concluded his article:
[The woman] had come [to Lourdes] with her dying husband as a last desperate attempt at salvation. It hadn’t worked, however. During my time in the United States he had passed away and, in her grief, she had returned from his death bed to her hotel room contemplating suicide. In the room, however, she said she had found my letter with the article about the miracle of faith in Lourdes.
She told me that it had made her change her mind about suicide. Instead, she said, she had decided to return to the United States, sell all her possessions and come back to [Lourdes] to spend the rest of her life assisting other people who had come there seeking help.
I have kept that letter to this day as a souvenir of two emotion-packed weeks of my life and a French-American-Hungarian adventure that even half a century cannot erase.
Bud embodied many admirable qualities. Several of them, exemplified by his reaction to the woman’s letter, were kindness, empathy and a simple humanity. The world was made a little better by his presence among us for 89 years. I will miss him. Rest in peace, Bud.
* A proper obituary, prepared no doubt in consultation with Bud’s family, appeared on April 9. It provides much more detail on Bud’s life of accomplishment. Here’s the link.