Former Spartan now a diplomat [UPDATED]Published 10:53am Friday, March 23, 2012 Updated 1:18pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012
From his rural childhood in Sri Lanka, a nation devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, to a career in American diplomacy and United Nations affairs, author Patrick Mendis is proud of his Minnesota upbringing.
Mendis, who studied at Perham High School and M State – Fergus Falls, is the author of several internationally-acclaimed books, most recently “Commercial Providence” and “Trade for Peace.”
More than 30,000 people died in Sri Lanka in the tsunami, which also left half a million homeless. It didn’t take long for Mendis to establish a fund where people could contribute to help people in his native land.
Money sent to his scholarship account and royalty from book sales went to Sarvodaya, the largest grass-roots humanitarian organization in the world, and for a number of tsunami scholarships.
“We all can look back with pride for being able to help the poorest people affected by the tsunami,” said Mendis.
Sri Lanka was devastated along with parts of Indonesia, India and Thailand, alongside the coasts of most land masses bordering the Indian Ocean. The United Nations listed 229,866 people lost, including 186,983 dead and 42,883 missing.
Mendis, a 1979 graduate of Perham High School, contemplated work in public service and diplomacy while at M State in Fergus Falls. That came to fruition, with Mendis later working for the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State’s Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell during the Clinton and Bush administrations. For his leadership and service, Mendis received the Benjamin Franklin Award and the Meritorious Honors Award from the State Department.
Before joining the State Department, Mendis taught at the Universities of Minnesota and Maryland and Yale. Through the University of Maryland, he taught U.S. military and civilian students in the NATO and Pacific Commands of the Pentagon. Mendis traveled to and worked in more than 80 countries.
The military professor received the prestigious Stanley Drake Teaching Excellent Award from the University of Maryland.
In 2005 he wrote a book, “Freedom on the March” and later authored “The Human Side of Globalization.”
Mendis was on the staff of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the mid-1980s when Minnesota U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz served as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He met Sen. Boschwitz in 1979 and they have been in touch with each other all these years. He later presented Boschwitz a copy of his book as well as a copy of his latest book to Vice President Mondale, whom Mendis also met in 1979.
“In my previous books I presented the human side of globalization as it interplays with local communities and Washington policies,” said Mendis.
Professor Lincoln Bloomfield of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said Mendis’ books deserve a wide American audience.
“Patrick has extraordinary devotion to the best of America’s distinguishing character and moral nature,” said Bloomfield. “He has an impressive career since arriving here in the United States as a student who previously studied in Sri Lanka.”
Proceeds from the books were donated to tsunami scholarships in Sri Lanka and a memorial scholarship in honor of Mendis’ late American AFS father in Perham.
Early this year, Mendis established the Edward Burdick Legislative Award at the University of Minnesota in memory of the late chief clerk and parliamentarian of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
While in Fergus Falls, Mendis worked during the 1984 Legislative Session with Burdick and Rep. Jim Evans of Detroit Lakes. The Perham graduate later stayed with the legendary parliamentarian while attending the University and became what he terms “an adopted son” of the late Burdick.
For his many contributions to Minnesota, then-Gov. Rudy Perpich recognized Mendis with the Governor’s Certificate of Honorary Citizenship.
Mendis is also a recipient of the State of Minnesota’s Asian-Pacific Heritage Award, the Gov. Harold Stassen Award for United Nations Affairs, and the University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey Alumni Leadership Award, which he received along with Walter Mondale in 1986 at Mendis’ graduation.
That success, said Mendis, is due in part to encouragement and the education he received as a student in both Perham and Fergus Falls.
“I still have many friends like the Haverland and the Shultz families in Perham and Fergus,” said Mendis.
The former exchange student proudly said, “Perham is my birthplace in America.”
Mendis currently is an affiliate professor of public and international affairs as well as an adjunct professor of geography and geoinformation science at George Mason University in Virginia.