A LEGACY OF A LIFE ABROAD
By Samuel Tueller Dearden (BA ’15)
Blaine Tueller was at church with his family in Washington, DC. A prominent Latter-day Saint greeted him and began a conversation. Upon learning of Tueller’s career as a diplomat, the man declared, “You can’t be a good Latter-day Saint and be in the Foreign Service,” and abruptly walked away without explaining why the two were incompatible.
Years earlier when Blaine and his wife, Jean, were making the decision to enter the Foreign Service, they weighed the career’s advantages and disadvantages carefully. Being in the Foreign Service and living in various countries could give their children rich and varied experiences. On the other hand, the career brought separation from extended family and friends. For Latter-day Saints, there was the added problem of the boozy environment of the US Department of State’s endless cocktail parties and diplomatic receptions. Upon weighing the options, Blaine and Jean decided that they could live the gospel and be in the Foreign Service.
Blaine Carlson Tueller and Jean Marie Heywood met in 1944 in high school in Cedar City, Utah, where they began dating. After high school, Blaine served a three-year mission to the Netherlands, and Jean graduated college and received a master’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Nebraska. Shortly after Blaine’s mission, the two married. A few years later, in 1957, Blaine entered the Foreign Service. Blaine and Jean served in Ireland, Austria, Morocco, Venezuela, Panama, the Philippines, Spain, and Washington, DC. They had ten children, raising them all abroad. Growing up internationally deeply influenced the lives and the faith of their children and taught them some of their most cherished lessons. The eldest child, Jan Tueller Lowman (BA ’76) said, “The lifestyle was not a trial; it was an advantage.”
Lifetimes of Learning
The Foreign Service gave the Tuellers ample opportunities to learn about the various countries, cultures, and ideas they encountered. Betsy Tueller Dearden (BS ’89) noted that her upbringing taught her to expand her intellectual horizons. She learned English and Spanish simultaneously in Venezuela. Later she added Tagalog, Swedish, and bits and pieces of several other languages. Betsy was by no means the only child to excel at language acquisition, as each of the ten children picked up Spanish, Tagalog, French, or Arabic. These language abilities gave the Tuellers a solid foundation of lifelong learning by providing an intellectual hunger for culture, literature, and politics.
Both Blaine and Jean actively encouraged their children’s learning. Many of the children remember with fondness the frequent trips to the library. Blaine reflected, “When we got to a new place, the first place we looked for was the library.” Blaine and Jean read widely, and their children followed their example. Matthew H. Tueller (BA ’81) recalled, “I remember weekly outings to the library, coming back with our arms loaded with whatever books we found. When I was in eighth grade, my dad was reading Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn. [As a fourteen-year-old], I read them and found them enthralling.” Jean was also an avid reader and kept reading during the last years of her life—even when her macular degeneration made it hard. Instead of giving up, she turned her Kindle to the largest text setting and kept reading one or two words at a time. She passed away in August 2019.
It was not just secular material to which the Tueller children were exposed. Blaine and Jean made sure that the scriptures were an important part of their lives. Most mornings, the family gathered for scripture study and discussion.
All of that reading, both secular and spiritual, served the Tuellers well. Every one of the ten children graduated from BYU and went on to apply the lessons of lifetime learning to their own lives. Their backgrounds, combined with language skills and intellectual interests, led to many of their life choices. It was in Morocco as a child that Matthew fell in love with the Arabic language—a love that would drive him to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an Arabist in the Foreign Service. He currently serves as US ambassador to Iraq and previously served as ambassador to Yemen and to Kuwait. Diane Tueller Pritchett (BA ’82, MA ’83) credited her upbringing for both her interest in political science (she received a PhD in the discipline) and the decision that she and her husband, Lant H. Pritchett (BA ’83), made to raise their children abroad.
Respect for All
The Tuellers were not like other Foreign Service families. While many American diplomats associated almost exclusively with other American expatriates, the Tuellers made connections and friendships with host-country nationals in the local ward or branch. The Tuellers made some of their closest friends at church, including Astrid Tuminez (BA ’86), the current president of Utah Valley University, when they were in the Philippines.
Jean wanted her family to be kind not only to their friends but to all. Her daughter Anna Tueller Stone (BA ’78) noted, “My mother was a fierce warrior against unkindness.” Jean was especially good at teaching her children to care in Christlike ways for people who were marginalized. Diane remarked that by moving so often, her parents “cast us into the role of outsider.” This role gave the children the empathy to help others who were left out or different. Diane remembered that her mother gave her this advice: “When you walk into a room as a newcomer, you should always look around and see who needs you.” Jean modeled this behavior herself, reaching out to those who needed love by inviting them to dinner or helping them financially. She also helped other families with housework and childcare. A constant thread running through Blaine and Jean’s life was kindness and a concern for those less fortunate. One colleague of Blaine’s described him as “the nicest and kindest man I ever worked for.”1
The experiences the Tuellers had with caring for and associating with others significantly informed their worldview for the rest of their lives. According to Diane, growing up abroad gave her a keen awareness of the vast and unfair inequalities in the world. In turn, this awareness made her more comfortable with differences and made her more sympathetic toward people who are different. Jan emphasized that she “learned to interact with and respect others from different countries, not just in an academic way but in a real heartfelt way.” For Betsy, she learned “the world is a big place, and there is room for everybody, so we should be
accepting of people.”
A Close Family
Moving so often could be difficult on the family, as they had to leave behind dear friends from church and school. The upside to this was that the siblings became each other’s best friends. Jeanne Tueller Krumperman (BA ’95), the youngest Tueller, said she cherished the gift of her siblings being “instant, lifelong friends.” With ten children, fights and disagreements were inevitable, but in those situations, Jean could usually be found singing “Love at Home” or praying for her squabbling children privately in her bedroom.
Despite being separated from extended family and their Utah roots, the Tuellers made sure to stay as connected as they could. Jean regularly wrote to her family in the US. She also taught her children a great deal about their Utah pioneer heritage, so much so that Jan figured “we probably heard more about our pioneer ancestors than most people did.” Jean also had copious amounts of Church literature around the house, including a collection of Relief Society magazines and Church booklets. Matthew recollected, “Both my parents gave us a sense of where our roots were. They told us stories about Cedar City, Panguitch, and Logan. We all loved those stories.”
The family also became closer as they told and retold their own stories, a tradition that continues to this day. The children remember the time they found storks on the roof in Morocco, or the time in Venezuela that robbers broke into the house, held a few family members at gunpoint, and tied them up—luckily, nobody was hurt. Today, Tueller grandchildren bond over telling family stories, like the time when Uncle Matt showed up on a post on Kim Kardashian’s Instagram, or how every fourth of July, pyromaniac Uncle Lant sets something on fire.
It is clear nowadays that one can be a good Latter-day Saint and be in the Foreign Service, as many faithful Latter-day Saints choose the career. In 2015 the American Foreign Service Association released a list of the top ten Foreign Service feeder schools. BYU made the list, alongside prestigious schools like Harvard, Georgetown, and Yale. Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice recognized the compatibility of Latter-day Saints and the Foreign Service when she said, “[BYU] has produced a fair share of fine public servants. . . . [The Foreign Service] requires a kind of selflessness that I associate with BYU and the community that BYU represents, the Latter-day Saints.”2
The lessons of learning, kindness, and togetherness that Blaine and Jean passed down to their children have now been passed down to their thirty grandchildren and are still being passed down to twenty great-grandchildren. A few of the grandchildren even want to follow in the footsteps of their grandfather and of their uncle and join the Foreign Service. The ten Tueller children remain grateful for their experiences growing up and for the example of their parents as kind, faithful, and knowledge-loving people. When asked to look back on his life in the Foreign Service, Blaine remarked, “We were very blessed. It turned out to be overwhelmingly positive in every way.”
Blaine Tueller passed away on 7 June 2020, six days after his ninetieth birthday, leaving a legacy of love, faithfulness, and kindness.
- David L. Lyon, interview by Charles Stuart Kennedy, 9 December 2010, adst.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Lyon-David-L.pdf.
- Brittany Karford Rogers, “A Diplomatic Life,” BYU Magazine, Winter 2012, magazine.byu.edu/article/a-diplomatic-life.