A tribute to Richard Woolcott AC from Bob Zoellick

Richard Woolcott lived a full life as an Australian patriot, internationalist from the Antipodes, and friend to people around the world.

He came of age during the Cold War, during which he dealt deftly with the East-West powers, but also became a pioneer of Australian diplomacy with Southeast Asia and the wider Asia Pacific. His wonderful laugh charmed his interlocutors; his shrewd insights —often delivered through quick, sharp observations—marked him as a wise counselor.

Australia’s political leaders of all backgrounds and parties recognized Dick Woolcott as a national asset.

I first met Dick in early 1989, when I worked for President George HW Bush and Secretary of State James Baker. In the late 1980s, Treasury Secretary Baker and I had the idea of complementing the G-7 with a group of Finance Ministers from the Asia Pacific; when we shifted to the State Department, we planned to launch the idea as an economic network to keep the US connected to the Asia Pacific in a post-Cold War world. So when Prime Minister Bob Hawke proposed APEC—but without the US and Canada—Washington registered its “displeasure”. Canberra sent Dick Woolcott to see us for “consultations.” What an inspired choice! I pointedly communicated our “views” about participation but who could be angry with Dick Woolcott for long? Later that year we were pleased to attend the first APEC ministerial in Canberra—my first visit to an extraordinary country! Dick’s relations with ASEAN countries—which were concerned that APEC could subsume them —were critical in those early years. The US, in turn, worked closely with the South Korean chair to add the PRC, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Along with Michael Cook, Australia’s excellent Ambassador to the US, Dick Woolcott epitomized the best qualities of the Australian-American partnership. Knowledgeable, informative, forthright with an eye toward persuading instead of hectoring, warm and kind, Dick Woolcott blended effective diplomacy with lasting friendship. Woolcott’s and Cook’s abilities and skills added to Australia’s “soft power”.

In 2010, I had the privilege to award Dick Woolcott the AALD’s first annual leadership honor. This was a personal delight for me, too: I have been fortunate to have had many Australian friends across generations, but Dick Woolcott was the first. I could not have enjoyed the mentorship of a better one!

Robert B. Zoellick