In September 1979, Joe Stafford was sent to Tehran, Iran, for his first posting with the U.S. Foreign Service along with his wife, Kathleen, and three other new junior diplomatic officers.
"It was one of the first years that the State Department allowed spouses to take the consulate course so they could work in the visa section of the embassy," said the former Kathleen Franks, a 1969 Cumberland County High School graduate. "They planned to let other spouses go in October and the idea was they were letting us go a little bit earlier."
Just two months later, Kathleen and Joe would be among six American diplomats seeking shelter with Canadian diplomats as the Iranian government collapsed and 52 Americans were held hostage by revolutionary students and militants across the city at the breeched U.S. embassy.
A Love of Art, Travel
Kathleen moved to Cumberland County with her family when she was in the sixth grade. For a family that had moved often with her Air Force father, Crossville offered a place to put down roots and make lasting memories.
The first of those was Paul Crabtree's production of Perils of Pinocchio in 1963.
"When we first arrived, we went to school every day at the middle school and it was a little bit dreary," she said. "Then Paul Crabtree came and put on a play and he brought lights and costumes. We sang songs and ran up and down the aisles. We all thought it was brilliant you could have spotlights."
Kathleen continued to take part in Playhouse productions throughout her high school years, performing in Tennessee, USA in the summers and watching people make the beautiful scenery for the shows. She also was active at CCHS, serving as junior class president and editor of the Jet Stream, a literary magazine featuring student short stories and poetry with illustrations. The magazine received recognition by a New York publication for its use of graphics.
She also studied art under Joe Ed Hodges and math with Velma Buck, both icons of education in Cumberland County, she said. Those two teachers impacted her later decision to study art and math in college, first at George Peabody College in Nashville and then for two years at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
At UT, she met Joe, who was studying Spanish and political science.
"Studying together, I think we just fell in love," she said. A year and a half later, they were married and he finished his undergraduate degree and one year of a master's degree in political science. They moved to Birmingham, AL, so that Kathleen could complete her degree while Joe went to work. Alabama-Birmingham had just started its art program when she arrived, and many of her art classes were taken at a sister university. There she was introduced to printmaking using cardboard plates instead of metal. Her senior thesis used black and white photographs of movies stars because the clothing provided a sense of texture to the photographs. She added more texture with fabric and glue.
She continued her art education at the Scuola Libera del Nudo in Rome and Palermo while Joe worked for an import-export company there. After a year in Rome, the couple returned to the United States to Florida so that Joe could continue his education working toward a doctorate in Latin America Studies because he had planned to teach at the university level.
"After a while, he started thinking he didn't want to be a professor. He loved the idea of traveling and working overseas," Kathleen said.
He took a test to join the U.S. Foreign Service and passed. He was given 10 days to get to Washington, DC, and start the 10-week basic program to learn about the service and the duties of junior officers. After that, the new officers bid on where they wanted to be placed. Joe's list included Khartoum, Sudan, and Tehran, Iran.
Joe, Mark Lijek, Richard Queen and Don Cook were all sent to Tehran.