Coming Full Circle

By Rob O’Connor ’95
Associate Editor
 

Alan and Carol EasthamIf Carolyn Laux Eastham’s life were a meal, then she started with dessert.

While most of her generation settled into careers, with an eye toward eventual retirement and the opportunity to travel, Carolyn quickly began living in far-flung countries and experiencing fascinating cultures, from Katmandu to the Congo, after graduating from Hendrix in 1972.

Her adventure began when she met Alan Eastham at Hendrix. She was a senior, and he was a junior.

She chose Hendrix "because it was smaller." She attended Sacred Heart, a Catholic school in Morrilton, where she grew up. There were 28 students in her high school class, she said.

"I felt like I’d be better in a smaller school," said Carolyn. "And my mother, for some reason, was big on Hendrix."

Alan graduated from Hendrix in 1973 with a degree in philosophy and returned briefly to his hometown of Dumas to work for his father’s radio station. He took the Foreign Service exam and enrolled in law school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The couple married in 1974. During Al’s first semester, he was offered a position as a junior officer in the Foreign Service.

"Al told them, ‘Let me finish this semester,’ and off we went to Washington," Carolyn recalled. He later completed law school in Georgetown, while stationed in Washington, D.C.

Alan’s first overseas appointment was in Katmandu, Nepal, where the couple lived for three years. During that period, Carolyn, who was an English major, taught English as a Second Language (ESL).

The Easthams celebrated their 36-year anniversary in August, just as Alan was beginning a new role as Senior Fellow for International Relations and International Programs at Hendrix.

Though his title reads Senior Fellow, in many ways, he considers himself a freshman faculty member.

"That’s exactly what I am," he said. "It’s not appropriate for me to have an academic title. [But] I’m sort of waived in on life experience, I suppose."

That life experience includes Foreign Service assignments in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, France and Washington, D.C. He became involved in African affairs in 1989 when he was assigned to the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, which was followed by a similar assignment in Zaire. As Special Negotiator for Conflict Diamonds, he negotiated the Kimberley Process Agreement regulating the global trade in rough diamonds. From 2005 to 2008, Eastham served as Ambassador to the Republic of Malawi. From 2008 until his retirement this year, he was U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Congo.

This fall, Alan is teaching two courses in the Politics Department, U.S. Foreign Policy and Comparative Politics – Africa. In the spring, he will teach a topics course on south Asia.

In addition to his course load, he will work closely with the Office of International Programs.

"I think I can add value by assisting students who would like to study or do research overseas, by reviewing project proposals for feasibility and practicality," he said, adding that he also hopes to be able to offer career advice for students who may want to work in U.S. agencies, the Foreign Service, or other agencies with an international presence.

Study abroad opportunities for Hendrix students have come along way since Eastham was a student in the early 1970s. At that time, he said, Hendrix offered one program in Graz, Austria, which was mainly for German majors.

"Compared to the vast richness of what is available now, that’s a terrific change," he said.

Alan is very appreciative of the role that Hendrix has played in his career.

"Though I can’t attribute a specific thing to Hendrix, I learned some skills that were very important to my Foreign Service career here," he said.

"A U.S. Embassy is like a small village. In some ways, it’s like dorm life," said Alan, who lived in Martin Hall for two years. "You have to get along with colleagues and peers."

"I learned how to learn and learned a framework for how the world operates," he said.

"I developed the ability to do the work assigned, to get the job done and see it through. I can’t tell you how important that is.

"And if you have a good liberal arts education, then law school is no problem," Alan said.

Carolyn thinks the transition to Hendrix is a perfect fit for her husband.

"He’s always enjoyed working with young people and mentoring the younger officers," she said. "New officers don’t usually get that, and he was really good at it. I knew he’d like dealing with students after seeing him with those young officers."

Carolyn is beginning a new role too. She now works for the Girl Scouts in North Little Rock. Fall is a busy season focused on recruiting new scouts in the schools, she said.

"All my friends are retiring," said Carolyn. "So I’m kind of doing it backwards."

During their life in the Foreign Service, Carolyn was active in the communities where they were stationed, usually some form of volunteer service to help meet local needs.

She was also busy raising children and helping them adjust to a new culture every three years. The Easthams have two sons. Mark is a senior at Elon University in North Carolina, and Michael is a junior at James Madison University in Virginia.

It was an interesting way to grow up, and the family’s life has left a lasting impression on their sons.

"From the time Michael was born in 1989 in Nairobi, Kenya, until 1999, we moved from one post to another," said Al. "He didn’t really live in the U.S."

"They love to travel," Carolyn said. "My older son says he can’t imagine staying in one place."

During Al’s appointment as U.S. Ambassador in Malawi, Carolyn took her sons to Kilimanjaro. She watched as the boys got to the summit.

"That was thrilling," she said.

"They were kind of sorry to see this life come to an end," she said. "Now it’s on their dime if they want to move around."

"They got a dose of the U.S., too," she said, noting their time in Washington. "And they know about Arkansas, too. As kids, they came home (to Morrilton) every year."

During one post, families were not permitted, so Carolyn and her sons lived briefly in Morrilton with her family. And while Al was stationed in Islamabad, Pakistan, families were evacuated, so she and her sons returned once again to Morrilton.

The Easthams have kept up with Hendrix through the years. Their closest connection is Carolyn’s sister, Ann Laux Turney ’75. Ann worked for Hendrix from 1984 until 2005 and is now Director of Development for the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Ann and her husband David live in Conway.

Hendrix presented Alan with the Odyssey Medal for Global Awareness, which is awarded to alumni who immerse themselves in cultures in other countries or distinct regions within this country through service, study, or research. The medal was presented during commencement and afterward, he gave the commencement address for the Class of 2007.

Carolyn has stayed in touch with several Hendrix friends, including a close friend and former roommate, Susie Roll Daniel ’72, and Grace Ellen Rice ’71.

With her mother in Morrilton and her sister in Conway, Carolyn said she is "glad to be close to home."

"We’re just happy to be back in Arkansas," she said. The couple now lives in Pulaski County. "There really is no better place to be ... it has everything."

"I want to see this country and travel in the U.S.," she said. Seeing Eureka Springs and hiking Pinnacle Mountain are at the top of the list, along with visiting national parks in the West and touring California.

"Every three years, we’ve made a new start," she said. "Maybe in three years, we’ll get the itch, but I don’t think so. After that many years, I think it’s time to do something else."