Hempstone, Smith, Jr. 1929-2006

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Hempstone, Smith, Jr. 1929-2006


See index for CA sketch: Born February 1, 1929, in Washington, DC; died of complications from diabetes, November 19, 2006, in Bethesda, MD. Journalist, diplomat, and author. A former columnist for the Washington Star, Hempstone made news as a controversial U.S. ambassador to Kenya during the dictatorship of Daniel arap Moi. He was a 1950 graduate of the University of the South and served in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War. During the early 1950s, he was a reporter for the Louisville Times, a rewrite man for National Geographic, and a reporter for the Washington Star. Hempstone's life would be influenced by author Ernest Hemingway, whom he met in Venice in 1954. The famous writer had suggested that the journalist experience Africa. As a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs from 1956 to 1960, Hempstone followed Hemingway's advice and lived in Africa. The Chicago Daily News hired him in 1961 to be its Africa correspondent, and he also reported from Latin America in 1965. Hempstone returned to the Washington Star in 1966, continuing to serve as a foreign correspondent through the rest of the 1960s. He then worked as an associate editor and editorial page director until he started his column, "Our Times," in 1975. The conservative column was nationally syndicated, running until 1989. At that time, President George H.W. Bush granted an earlier request by Hempstone and named the journalist ambassador to Kenya. Hempstone would later admit that he was not a diplomat in the traditional sense. Seeing his role as one of helping to spread American democracy, he was a sharp critic of President Moi, whose one-party government ruled Kenya. Hempstone enraged Moi by frequently inviting political opponents to dinners at the U.S. embassy. The ambassador also pressured Moi in other ways, such as threatening to have U.S. aid cut off if Moi's policies did not change. The Kenyan government responded by accusing Hempstone of crimes such as drug dealing, and they declared him a racist. Hempstone maintained his job until 1993, however, while Moi kept his until resigning in 2002. Returning home, Hempstone was diplomat in residence at the University of the South, taking a similar post in 1994 at the Virginia Military Institute. The author of the nonfiction titles Africa: Angry Young Giant (1961) and Rebels, Mercenaries and Dividends: The Katanga Story (1962), he also penned two novels: A Tract of Time (1966) and In the Midst of Lions (1968). In 1997, he released Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir (1997), which led to a libel suit. Moi and his aide Nicholas K. Biwott sued Hempstone for writing in his book that the two had plotted the murder of foreign minister Robert Ouko. Although Moi later dropped the charge, Biwott did not. However, U.S. officials declared that the Kenyan court ruling in Biwott's favor would not lead to Hempstone's extradition. The retired journalist was advised to never travel to Kenya again, though, for his own safety.



Hempstone, Smith, Jr., Rogue Ambassador: An African Memoir, University of the South Press (Sewanee, TN), 1997.


Chicago Tribune, November 20, 2006, section 1, p. 13.

Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2006, p. B8.

New York Times, November 30, 2006, p. A27; December 1, 2006, p. A2.

Washington Post, November 20, 2006, p. B4.