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Personal Reflections: ASPA’s Anniversary and a Career in Public Administration

By Itoko Suzuki

reflectionA personal reflection on the 75th anniversary of ASPA and my own career in international public service leads to nostalgia and inevitably touches upon the question, “why choose a career as a public administrator?” In my case, not a choice as there were no other alternatives. 

I say no alternatives because in 1969 there was no equal opportunity for women at work. In Japan, the door for employment was closed to women, especially with higher education. An ordinary young woman, I had just completed my master’s degree and had a few years of journalist and field research experience. It was luck that I caught the attention of a recruiting mission from the United Nations looking for young female candidates. All the contemporary, young and bright women in Japan were already married in those days, as was the regular path of life in women in their late 20s. Simply put, I was derailed from the  normal female career of homemaking and squeezed out of  my country, with incidental rescue of the international public service.

Thanks to the prestigious tag of the United Nations (UN) carrying profound  missions, even a  junior professional was given opportunities of working with  distinguished and famous administrators and scholars of the world. A few weeks after I started in the UN Programme in Public Administration, I was summoned to rush to my Director’s office late one morning. I was introduced to a tall, thin man who asked me, “Are you ordering a delivery of the Japanese rice lunchbox today for your lunch? If so, could you kindly add one more for me? ” It was the legendary Donald C. Stone! I could not believe it. Was he real? And eat Japanese meal, now and here?  Whenever he visited us in New York or when I accompanied my boss—who often asked Don to join him in many UN activities as the chief adviser—I  was in charge of finding safe dishes for him in European or Asian cities. He was allergic to flour.

Don was always carrying postcards, pens and busy writing memos in the waiting area of airports or small bistros. I was often a recipient of those post cards, written in the smallest but clearest font using fully the small space with full of advice and ideas. I often just copied his phrases in the notes in my project proposal draft for the boss. His manner was always convincing but calm and gentle, even in an intense discussion.

Over the years, I have met, worked and interacted with many highly-regarded public administrators and past presidents of ASPA. Here are some of my fondest memories:

In 1970, William J. Siffin visited my boss in his office. He smiled gently at a nervous Japanese girl, after she greeted him in poor English, and said, “I know some Japanese words, like tsunami. Am I pronouncing correctly?” At the time, Siffin was the director of AID’S Office of Development Administration. He was my boss’s counterpart of the U.S. in our forthcoming conference on modern management techniques to be held in Washington, D.C. Since then, we continuously worked with his office in many institution-building projects for developing countries. The UN Public Administration Division was renamed to the Development Administration Division, partly influenced by the Siffin’s office naming.

Former ASPA President, Dwight A. Ink, was a high-ranking public administrator from the U.S. and the kindest personality I met. In 1975, I visited him at his office at the General Service Administration where he was the deputy administrator. His office had already a program of advancement of women and my visit was for the UN to follow. He not only assigned me to a female professional to take me to the federal offices with similar programs, including the Federal Women’s Program (President Kennedy initiated in early 1960s) of the U.S. Civil Service Commission. I was introduced to the director, Helen Markoff. With Ink’s credentials, I was able to meet with the female program directors of DHUF, Department of Labor, AID , etc. Ink himself actively participated in many UN projects related to this and all others. He was the most supportive and influential figure for the equal participation of women issues. He was a U.S. delegate in the UN expert group meetings in public administration and often acted as chair. He was very active in the IIAS-IASIA conferences, and in a few occasions, I was honored to be in the same meetings. I particularly recall him approaching me just after I finished a 3-minute presentation at a session in Marrakesh, Morocco in 1980s. I was in the same group of the information management with him and skipped the lunch to prepare for the shortest presentation. He gave me a kindest compliment, “It was the best and shortest speech in this concluding session, with all the words you expressed having precise meaning, congratulations!” This was the best complement I ever received in my professional life. He was generous and so supportive of younger people.

Nesta M. Gallas, ASPA’s second president, was living in New York when I first met her in the 1970s. I was able to tap her many times for advice and was lucky to obtain her tireless and inspiring ideas for several goals such as advancement of women, network building, participatory governance, etc. She introduced me to a number of able professionals of ASPA for the UN consultancy. In the UN network building conference, held in 1980 at Alcala de Henares, Spain, both Donald Stone and Nesta Gallas were my advisors! What a luxury!

Naomi B. Lynn was another ASPA president that actively helped us in advancement of women training projects. I was fortunate to work with her in Bangkok in the early 1980s, where she gave thematic lectures to ASEAN country directors of personnel. She was much admired by her ability to gently present empowering ideals to “adamant” male directors but in persuasive manners. We enjoyed shopping together at a spare time. She was in a private time, like a next-door neighbor and such a fun person. In work, she portrayed herself an excellent role model to Asian senior female public administrators.

In the 1970s, Enid Beaumont was a professor at New York University where I was working towards my doctoral degree. Her students were invited at the end of a semester to her Washington Square apartment for her home-cooked casserole meal that was very delicious! In the classroom, she was a severe critique. I recall her bitter remarks to her argumentative students. “Well, it is just a difference in vocabularies!” She was right. Efficient, effective administration to transparent, accountable management, government in action, re-inventing government, common sense administration, new public management, good governance, etc. Many vocabularies were utilized in past 75 years, for the continued same pursuit of improving public administration, to serve better the citizens and the society of the time and for the future generations.

My episode telling must conclude with my appreciation to the outstanding history of  ASPA and gratitude to its all the  great founding fathers and mothers I encountered. If not included in the above stories, but in fact many more to whom I owe greatly, for the long blessed period in a career of a public administrator.

 

Author: Itoko Suzuki is a retired senior citizen of Japan and former chief, Branch of Public Administration and Governance, United Nations. Suzuki is a professor in public administration at a  few universities in Japan including Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. She can be reached at [email protected].

 

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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