Growing up on the Alberta prairies, Gordon Brown was involved with school- and, later, university-student publications, often as a writer of doggerel but more usually as one confined by the duties of editor. He graduated in history from the University of Alberta in 1942 and spent the next four years in the army, mostly with an Alberta regiment, serving in Canada and overseas. In 1946, on demobilization at the age of 24, he accepted a position at the University of Alberta with responsibility as, among other things, editor of the university quarterly. The latter was a daunting assignment because he took over from a distinguished professor of English, Frederick Milton Salter, who had been the tutor of W.O. Mitchell of Who has seen the Wind fame.
In 1947, Brown became a foreign service officer of the Department of External Affairs, with which he remained until 1979. The diplomatic profession is one dedicated to accurate and truthful reporting of events, descriptions of personalities, analyses of situations. External Affairs was then run by people who demanded excellence.
Of his 32 years in the service, the most rewarding were a dozen that formed the middle period of his career. From mid-1958 to the beginning of 1970, he served abroad in South Africa, the Soviet Union, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cyprus with only a two-year stint in the early sixties at headquarters in Ottawa. Troubling events took place during his postings in each of the four countries: their situations were of international concern and impinged on Canadian interests. Their problems and the unfolding of our bilateral relations provided this Canadian diplomat with challenges andgreat job satisfaction.
The years marked great changes universally. A few months after the South African posting began, a rocket lifted the chirping Sputnik into orbit. Gagarin became the first man to travel into space. By the end of the 1960s, rocketry would land man on the moon. The wide-bodied jet aircraft superseded the ocean liner, transforming the journey to a foreign post from a period of thoughtful reflection into a physical and spiritual jolt. Colonial powers rushed to rid themselves of empires and, for many former colonies, independence was soon to be tarnished by corruption, ethnic hatred and worse. The nuclear arms race and rocketry development steadily intensified the peril to civilization. Everywhere the Cold War diminished the freedoms that most of this generation of diplomatic practitioners had served in war to defend.
From 1958 to 1970, each of the three very different men who were Prime Ministers of Canada reacted in very different ways to foreign affairs and the conduct of foreign policy. All three enter into this story. Seen from South Africa, John Diefenbaker's deep respect for human rights appeared as the motor of both his condemnation of the regime that had brought on the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and his role in the departure of the country from the Commonwealth. There was some truth in his suspicion that Canadian diplomats were "Pearson's old gang", although "Dief" was off base in that as a general assessment. L.B. Pearson's hand at the helm was usually but not always comforting to the professionals serving in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. However, his decency would be evident during the Congo years as was his determination when Canada's existence was under attack at home and from abroad. The last year of the sixties exposed the Department of External Affairs to the intellectual arrogance of Pierre Trudeau and his declared preference for the views of The New York Times to those of Canada's professional diplomats.