U.S. Ambassador Trusten Frank Crigler died peacefully on May 16th, 2021 at the age of 85 of natural causes.    He led a remarkable life of service to his country with two Ambassadorships and several posts as Chargé and Deputy Chief of Mission.  

During his long career with the U.S. Foreign Service, Frank often faced situations that required considerable leadership and personal courage.  He successfully led the evacuation and eventual rescue of hundreds of US citizens and expats at risk during the “mercenary” rebellion and civil war in eastern Congo in 1967, for which he received Congressional recognition.  As Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé in Bogota, Columbia from 1979 to 1981,  Crigler helped negotiate the release of US. Ambassador Diego Ascencio and 60 other diplomats held hostage by the M-19 guerrillas.  As Ambassador to Rwanda from 1976 to 1979, he fought to head off the civil unrest that subsequently led to the genocide and tamp down the smoldering conflicts between the Rwandan government and American gorilla researcher Diane Fossey, with whom he and his wife Bettie became close friends.  As Ambassador in Somalia from 1987 to 1990,  he worked to avoid civil unrest that led to the disintegration of civil society, famine, and ill-fated U.S. intervention in 1992.

Frank was born in Phoenix,  Arizona on October 17, 1935, to Robert and Elsie Crigler.  He grew up in the Phoenix area, attended public schools and graduated from West Phoenix High School.

Frank  married his  high school sweetheart and classmate Bettie Ann Morris and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he majored in music at Harvard College, graduating magna cum laude in 1957.

In 1961 Frank joined the U.S. Foreign Service and moved his young family to northern Virginia for his assignment as an intelligence analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department.  

Frank’s first overseas assignment came in 1963 as a political officer in the US. consulate general at Guadalajara, Mexico. A year later,  Frank became a consular officer in Mexico City .

Over the next 30 years Frank held progressively senior positions within the Foreign Service in Africa, Latin America and Washington DC, including Zaire (now The Democratic Republic of the Congo);  Libreville, Gabon; Washington DC; and Mexico City.  Frank was appointed Ambassador in Rwanda (1976-1979); deputy chief of mission  and Chargé d'Affaires in Colombia (1979-1981); and Ambassador in Somalia (1987-1990). 

Frank’s Washington assignments included political advisor to the U. S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, American Political Science Fellow with the U. S. Congress, Director of Mexican Affairs in State (1981-1983), and senior Foreign Service Inspector, based in Washington (1983-1986).

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1990, Frank held the Warburg Chair in International Relations at Simmons College in Boston and taught diplomacy (1993-1995).  As a private consultant in foreign relations, he expressed his views on foreign policy issues frequently, especially with regard to Africa and Mexico, before the Congress, in the press, and on national television.  In 1996, he and Bettie moved to Durham, North Carolina, and worked  with  Duke University as a fellow with the Center for International Development Research.  He  co-founded and published of American Diplomacy and was active in the Durham civic life.  

Frank is survived by his children, Jeffrey, Lauren and Jeremy, grandchildren Robin Amelia and Elizabeth and sister Alice Richards of Phoenix, AZ.

Tributes are short messages commemorating Trusten, or an expression of support to his closest family and friends. Leave your first tribute here, and others will follow.

Leave a Tribute

Recent Tributes
his Life

Frank's greatest passion was music

When dad moved in with me and my husband we were able to move his piano over as well. One afternoon I played a song: My Funny Valentine, sung by Rikki Lee Jones. Dad moved straight to his piano and played it afterwards. It was the last time he played with gusto and confidence.
Recent stories

Globally Engaged Service - Remembrance by John Hamilton

Shared by Jeremy Crigler on June 16, 2021
Your Dad and Mom were important people in my life and Foreign Service career, even though we were together on just one assignment -- the two years he and Bettie were in Embassy Mexico City, 1974-1976.  They had arrived a couple of weeks before Donna and me and made contact with us our first night there.  We went out to dinner at a wonderful restaurant near where we were staying, by the end of the evening, Donna and I knew we had found true and dear friends.

Your parents were the life of that embassy.  I think they entertained the junior officers and non-officer staff at least once a month.  Bettie would cook a couple of huge paellas, Frank would get out his guitar after we had eaten, and by the end of his tour, we had learned most of the best-known ranchero and corrida ballads:  El Rey; Volver, volver; La Llorona; Que bonitos ojos tienes; Alla en el rancho grande…and of course La Cucaracha

We did lots of excursions together from Mexico City.  There was a wonderful book widely available then entitled “One-day car trips from Mexico City” that described over 120 destinations within a two-hour driving radius.  We must have picnicked together in two dozen of them.  Our third year in Mexico, by which time Frank had been appointed Ambassador in Kigali, was pretty dull in comparison with the first two.

Three years later, Donna and I had become parents and were assigned to Thessaloniki, Greece.  I’m not sure how we managed the communications and logistics to arrange it all, but we did a week of travel together the summer of 1979 in and around Athens and the Peloponnesus, Frank and Bettie flying up from Kigali before heading back to Washington.  Then, six months later, by which time Frank and Bettie were in Bogota, the hostage-taking of the Dominican Embassy took place.  As it wore on and on with no resolution in sight, the Department asked Frank if he’d like some TDY help and he asked for me.  I ended up spending five weeks there, living with your Mom and Dad and working late shifts on the Embassy task force to spell the embassy staff.  Your Dad made a huge contribution to the resolution of the crisis, working imaginatively and tirelessly to maintain communications among the various players.  It amazed me, too, how during this time of incredible stress, your parents twice had embassy staff over for paella. 

We overlapped in the Bureau of American Republic Affairs for a year in the mid-1980’s and would see them often for dinner while Donna and I were still in Washington and Frank was in the Inspection Corps.  It was a huge disappointment to Donna and me both and a loss to the Foreign Service when Frank and Bettie decided to retire in 1990. 

After Donna and I retired in 2005, we visited your parents in Durham that August.  For several years after that, although by this time Donna and I were living in Washington State, I managed to see Frank and Bettie several times while back in North Carolina for an annual fall fishing trip with a brother.  It was always wonderful to be reunited with them.

Your parents were kind, gracious, fun-loving, positive, and cheerful people. They were unfailingly curious about the world, sympathetic, and open-minded. It was always a joy to be with them, no matter the amount of time that had elapsed since the previous visit. I know they brought happiness and enrichment to all their friends and colleagues, as they did to us.  I miss them dearly.  Please accept my deepest sympathy as you adjust to your loss.

Bettie's Letter July 1967

Shared by Jeffrey Crigler on May 29, 2021
Kinshasa, Congo July 11, 1967 

Dearest Family. 

I've decided to write just one letter to all the family as what each of you is interested in at this point is the same thing, our welfare and just what has happened. I also realize that being without information is doubly hard on you - as I am going through the same thing right now as far as Frank is concerned. First, let me say that we are all well and safe here in Kinshasa. "Safe" in Kinshasa may not seem very safe to any of you but there really is no real reason to be concerned about our welfare here. There is a six to six curfew for all whites and police here are apt to be unpleasant but there is no real danger of any kind to us. So please rest easy on that count. 

I guess the best way to tell you all the facts that you are so anxious to hear is start at the beginning and recount all that I can remember for you. I want to do this in exactly the manner it happened as I want a record of the entire thing for myself. Please remember some of the things I'm about to say are for you only and therefore must not get into the press under any circumstances. It could cause a great deal of trouble for Frank.. 

It really started on July 4th about 3 in the afternoon. The entire staff at the Consulate was at our house preparing for the reception of 200 people to be given in our yard. One of the missionaries came over to ask Frank if he had any news of trouble to the south of Bukavu. The reports from missionaries in that area that day had it that the natives were taking their belongings and running to the jungle. Frank called the General in the area - Kakugi by name. No, there was nothing - must be a tribal problem as is so common in the area. That night among our guests were the Governor (Enguly) and wife, the General, all the Majors and everyone else of importance in the local army and government. The party was a huge success -the best ever given what I was told by nearly every guest. Everyone went home before ten leaving the yard a mass of red, white and blue paper and balloons. We went to bed exhausted but very pleased with ourselves. 

This all seems a hundred years ago now but it was only a week ago tonight. We were awakened just shortly after six the next morning with the sound of what I thought sleepely were 4th fireworks and then decided were the ANC (local army) at target practice. After about 15 minutes I realized it was not and wakened Frank. He threw on clothes and left to try and find out the trouble, leaving me to call the Governor and General. No answer anywhere. Calls started coming in from all over town from local Americans - missionaries and a few U.N. people who worked for World Health. I learned that the local troops were fighting a fierce battle on the peninsula (look on a map) against what appeared to be Katangan troops and white mercenaries. 

This proved true. I can't explain the entire political situation without writing pages but in short they are trained in the rich mineral part of Southern Gongo and want to be a separate country including the Kivu area and up to Stanleyville. 

Frank looked over the situation under fire I might add and sent a flash to the Department and to the Embassy - set up his communications, the talky talky from our house to the Consulate and started to line up the Americans for evacuation. We were in total 49 in and around town within ten miles. Further south some 15 more are located and across the lake at the hospital that I told you about was a new young mother with a three day old baby. All Frank’s responsibility. He got them all located via the wonderful radio set up missionaries maintain at a at all time.. ANC troops were fleeing the battle and the battle was much closer to our house located on the other peninsula on the way to the airport. ANC troops were running across our lawn unarmed for the most part - scared to death. I was operating the radio giving reports on the situation near us and soon it was clear that reaching the airport in neighboring Rawada was hopeless for the moment. Frank radioed the Embassy to prepare a plane for when he could get us out he would do just that.

I've skipped a very important part which must not go beyond the family.. Just shortly after Frank left that morning the Governor came to the door, slightly wounded and scared to death asking for political asylum in our house. I let him in, radioed the Ambassador for instruction and put him up in the attic to hide him. 

I was instructed to help him if possible but not to risk the children's safety in doing so. In other words to keep him but not try to prevent a search 11 the Kats (The other troops )came looking for him. I kept him there all day until [the next] day [we] could arrange for a boat to take him across the lake under cover of darkness. I turned many search parties away during the day and none tried to force their [way] in to look. At six that night M. Simmon - of Mobil Oil, took him across the lake to safety in his boat - a great relief to me. I had taken the children next door in case someone did force their way in. 

Late that night the firing was a little less and Frank felt it safe to risk taking the three wives who live above the Consulate to our house for the night. I put up a total of 22 people for the night and fed over 35 for dinner that night. All people who fled to us with no one to help them. 

The firing continued all night without let up and it was clear that the ANC was completely beaten. Frank made arrangements to talk to the new leaders at seven the next day to arrange an escort out of the city for our American community. 

I must say here, that you can be very, very proud of Frank. He never led with so much ease, completely unafraid and with complete control. He was as Rush [sic] wired him, doing a superb job with the support of the entire Department. He met with the leaders the next morning, they refused a guard - as it turned out they simply didn't have enough people to spare even one. But told him we could leave if we saw fit to do so. 

Frank called all the missionaries to our house asking them to bring only one suitcase, blankets and food for the night. The firing continued all the second day but not so heavy and a bit further away to the North of town. By one in the afternoon -after Frank had already risk[ed] his life and gone the bridge to Rwanda he told us we would leave then. We formed a caravan of 19 cars and 49 women and children and men. He flew our Consular flag and and in the lead car we set out on the longest four mile or five mile journey I'11 ever take. Just as a side note. We couldn’t locate our regular American flags to fly on the front of the car so at the last minute I took one from the red, white and blue centerpiece from our 4th party -remember, Mother you sent me some little ones. 

As I said we left Frank and I and the children in the lead car headed for the second bridge out of town as the first one was held by ANC and [we were] unable to cross there at all. He drove ever so slowly, stopping for every soldier that wanted to ask questions and finally, we made it across town to the main road block -manned with troops and machine guns. Frank was wonderful. He laughed and talked with then, offered them cigarettes, and whiskey, told them where we were headed and so forth and just plain talked our way through without shot or an insult. It was something to see - 19 cars headed with that little American flag passed troops that were the most blood thirsty anywhere in the world, I guess. We drove the last mile or so out of town with no more trouble and crossed [the] bridge safely into Rwanda about 3 in the afternoon. We all let out sighs of relief and increased our speed when suddenly from the hill came a report of a machine gun. Frank threw on the brakes, jumped out of the car and waved the gunner to stop. Telling me to head the other cars on and leave him. I couldn't do that but I gave the flags to the second car and waited. He talked to the gunners -as it turned out just Rwandan soldiers frightened by so many cars crossing at one time. They let us pass with no more trouble and some hours later we arrived at the Rwanda airport to wait for our C-123 rescue plane. 

Frank had led a rescue that has proved to be the smartest thing he ever did - as over 11 whites have been killed in Bukavu since we left and many beaten and badly treated. He organized it was no major trouble and with timing that has proved almost a miracle. One hour later and the border was sealed off and all the remaining whites have been badly treated. 

Just to let you in on a story that you will see in Life in a couple of weeks. After we arrived at the airport we had a wedding. That's right. A young missionary couple in the group were to be married on July 13th - we had all been invited to a tea plantation for the event. She had come out with her wedding dress, shoes and bible. She came up to my bearded, dirty husband and said Mr. Crigler, can we be married right now" Frank said yes, and at 5:30 in her white dress, made by her mother, white shoes and wild flowers on her bible, picked by Laurie and Jeff they were married under a tree with the hills and lake as a back drop. You couldn't believe it and I'm sure you won't but Life magazine has bought the pictures from Marge Franklin (He was our radio contact) for a rather large sum as you can imagine. They were married at 5:30 and the C-123 arrived at six just in time to have ginger bread wedding cake with us. The man that was to have married them was there to do the service and Frank put the legal seal on it and so they spent their wedding night in the front seat of a Land Rover happy and grateful to be alive and together. I think had I been in their shoes I would have felt the same way and done the same thing. 

Back to the rescue – at six we lined our cars to light the runway and that beautiful American Flag on the side of the plane could be seen. It's never looked so good - believe me. They landed, kissed the bride and we knew we were all safe. 

Frank made the decision we stay the night there as it was dark and a take off is rather dangerous. So I had brought out enough food to feed us all -the wives helped me and we put on a more or less hot meal for over fifty people and got all the children bedded down in cars and all the adults on the plane and some of us with blankets on the ground. We spent a cold but grateful night safe across the river from the firing. Which continued all through the night.

We left at seven the next morning for Kigali where we hoped to refuel and detour by Stanleyville, pick up some more and then come here. As you know from the papers that was impossible and the people there have not been heard from since the first day. and we have no idea what their fate may have been. We stayed in Kigali that night-in homes of the Embassy families there - very well treated I might add. We arrived in Kinshasa mid-day on Saturday. 

I wish that I could say that Frank is here with me and safe. The Ambassador asked him to stay on and try to gather information from across the river and not to re-enter Bukavu until all is well. He re-renter tonight and I am at present hoping some word will come over the wire tonight still that all is well. I feel sure he would not have entered if he felt there was any danger to him and he can help save others that are in trouble. He has done a wonderful job and I don't mind saying I’m very proud of him. 

The most distressing news may have reached you by press - our house has been completely sacked and looted - there is nothing left at all there and the fate of the dog is still in question. It has been a blow - we brought out only two small suitcases with the barest essentials. It's very hard to think of losing everything by some unruly bandits but that is the case. The children each brought out some favorite thing. 

I thought you might like to know what each one wanted. Laurie chose her new comb and brush set and her Barbie doll. Jeff his coin collection and his cowboy hat, and Nacho his book bag with his trucks in it. That is all they have in the way of toys and almost nothing in the way of clothes. At present I prefer not even to think about it - it's gone and so it's gone. We'll replace it some way I guess - I'm only thankful that we are safe and Frank has done such a brilliant job saving over 75 American Lives. He worked the following day getting out the rest of them from further south and the young mother with the Baby. A11 safe and no one hurt. 

We are staying with the DCM (second in the Embassy here) until our plans are formed. I know nothing at all at this point. The Ambassador has asked for special leave for the children and myself for rest and recuperation and shopping in the States. I don't know if it will be grated or not and I'm trying not to count on it. It would be a favor from the government and they aren't very inclined to do many favors as you know. I would prefer coming when Frank can come so it will just have to wait a while to see what happens. I haven't any idea how long it will be before the Ambassador wants him to return here. When he is no longer putting out useful information of the situation there, I suppose. Now is much harder on me that before - waiting is far worse than being there in [to] think of it. There is a [s]light chance we may be home for leave before too long but don't count on it yet. 

Try no to believe all you hear on T-V and read. Much is faults and much in true but way out proportion. Things are calm here - just lots of police and army running around and the curfew. So don't worry about us. 

I received your telegrams, Mother and Daddy. Thank you very. I hope you were informed as I asked them to do. 

If you have time Jeff and Laurie need sweaters in the worse way and almost anything else you could find on sale. They have almost no clothes left. They all three came out in one suit case and I have one small one. The government will pay about 80 percent in about ten years - big deal. In the mean time, if ever a care package was needed it's now. 

Please try not to worryWe love you all and will try to keep you as posted as possible on things here. 


American Diplomacy

Shared by Jeffrey Crigler on May 27, 2021
Dear Jeffrey,

On behalf of American Diplomacy and all of us on the Board, let me express our condolences and deep sympathies at the passing of your dad.  He was a founder and inspirational spirit for our journal.  This is our 25th year of continuous publication as the first digital magazine focused on American diplomacy.  His legacy, of course, is still with us, and we intend for it to remain so for many years to come.  In many ways, Ambassador Crigler made the world better and safer, and we honor him with every issue we publish.

With warm regards,
Bob Pearson
Ambassador W. Robert Pearson (retired)
President, American Diplomacy Publishers, Inc.
Scholar, Middle East Institute
Fellow, Duke University Center for International and Global Studies/Rethinking Diplomacy
824 Fearrington Post
Pittsboro, NC 27312