Thomas S. Estes

Last updated
Thomas S. Estes
2nd United States Ambassador to Burkina Faso
In office
June 26, 1961 July 13, 1966
President John F. Kennedy
Preceded by R. Borden Reams
Succeeded by Elliott P. Skinner
Personal details
BornJanuary 23, 1913
Rumford, Maine, US
DiedDecember 29, 2001 (2001-12-30) (aged 88)
Bradenton, Florida, US
Profession Diplomat

Thomas Stuart Estes (January 23, 1913 – December 29, 2001) was an American diplomat. He was the United States Ambassador to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) from 1961 to 1966. He was the first ambassador solely accredited to Upper Volta.

Burkina Faso Country in Africa

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa. It covers an area of around 274,200 square kilometres (105,900 sq mi) and is surrounded by six countries: Mali to the north; Niger to the east; Benin to the southeast; Togo and Ghana to the south; and Ivory Coast to the southwest. The July 2019 population estimate by the United Nations was 20,321,378. Burkina Faso is a francophone country, with French as the official language of government and business. Roughly 40% of the population speaks the Mossi language. Formerly called the Republic of Upper Volta (1958–1984), the country was renamed "Burkina Faso" on 4 August 1984 by then-President Thomas Sankara. Its citizens are known as Burkinabé. Its capital is Ouagadougou.



Thomas Estes was born on January 23, 1913 in Rumford, Oxford County, Maine.

Rumford, Maine Town in Maine, United States

Rumford is a town in Oxford County, Maine, United States. The population was 5,841 at the 2010 census. Rumford is home to both ND Paper Inc's Rumford Mill and the Black Mountain of Maine ski resort.

Oxford County, Maine U.S. county in Maine

Oxford County is a county in the state of Maine, United States. As of the 2010 Census, the county had a population of 57,833. Its county seat is the town of Paris. The county was formed on March 4, 1805, from northerly portions of York and Cumberland counties. It borders the Canadian province of Quebec.

Maine state of the United States of America

Maine is the northernmost state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. Maine is the 12th smallest by area, the 9th least populous, and the 38th most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states. It is bordered by New Hampshire to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast, and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Québec to the northeast and northwest, respectively. Maine is the only state to border just one other state, is the easternmost among the contiguous United States, and is the northernmost state east of the Great Lakes.

Early years in Worcester, Massachusetts

At age 16, Estes left Maine, and his childhood sweetheart Ruth Fullerton, to live and work with his aunt and uncle Fanny and Joseph Coombs in Worcester, Massachusetts. His uncle was the owner of an interior decorating and furniture business during the Great Depression. While in Worcester, he met Dorothy Astrid Forsstedt, who would later become his wife.

Worcester, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Worcester is a city in, and the county seat of, Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. Named after Worcester, England, as of the 2010 Census the city's population was 181,045, making it the second-most populous city in New England after Boston. Worcester is approximately 40 miles (64 km) west of Boston, 50 miles (80 km) east of Springfield and 40 miles (64 km) north of Providence. Due to its location in Central Massachusetts, Worcester is known as the "Heart of the Commonwealth", thus, a heart is the official symbol of the city. However, the heart symbol may also have its provenance in lore that the Valentine's Day card, although not invented in the city, was mass-produced and popularized by Worcester resident Esther Howland.

Great Depression 20th-century worldwide economic depression

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries, it started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the world's economy can decline.

1934 Enlistment in the Marines and Beijing

In 1934 Estes enlisted in the U.S. Marines. In 1936 Tom graduated the Marines Clerical School and in 1937 was assigned to the American Embassy in Beijing, China. [1]

Beijing Municipality in Peoples Republic of China

Beijing, formerly romanized as Peking, is the capital of the People's Republic of China, the world's third most populous city proper, and most populous capital city. The city, located in northern China, is governed as a municipality under the direct administration of the central government with 16 urban, suburban, and rural districts. Beijing Municipality is surrounded by Hebei Province with the exception of neighboring Tianjin Municipality to the southeast; together, the three divisions form the Jingjinji metropolitan region and the national capital region of China.

Republic of China (1912–1949) 1912–1949 country in Asia, when the Republic of China governed mainland China

The Republic of China (ROC) was a sovereign country that existed between 1912 and 1949 in Mainland China, which is now controlled by the People's Republic of China. It was established in January 1912 after the Xinhai Revolution, which overthrew the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. The Republic's first president, Sun Yat-sen, served only briefly before handing over the position to Yuan Shikai, the leader of the Beiyang Army. Sun's party, the Kuomintang (KMT), then led by Song Jiaoren, won the parliamentary election held in December 1912. However, Song was assassinated on Yuan's orders shortly after; and the Beiyang Army, led by Yuan, maintained full control of the Beiyang government. Between late 1915 and early 1916, Yuan Shikai was the self-proclaimed Emperor of China before abdicating due to popular unrest. After Yuan's death in 1916, the authority of the Beiyang government was further weakened by a brief restoration of the Qing dynasty. Cliques in the Beiyang Army claimed individual autonomy and clashed with each other during the ensuing Warlord Era.

Foreign service in Siam

In early 1938 Estes received an honorable discharge from the Marines to join the United States Foreign Service as a clerk and was assigned to the legation in Bangkok, Thailand under American Minister Edwin L. Neville and Holbrook "Chappy" Chapman.[ citation needed ] In Bangkok Estes was promoted to Vice Consul. While in Thailand Estes married Dorothy Forsstedt on December 13, 1938, in the Episcopal Church in Bangkok. Dorothy then began work at the Legation as a clerk.

United States Foreign Service responsible for the foreign policy of the United States

The United States Foreign Service is the primary personnel system used by the diplomatic service of the United States federal government, under the aegis of the United States Department of State. It consists of over 13,000 professionals carrying out the foreign policy of the United States and aiding U.S. citizens abroad.

Legation diplomatic mission not headed by an ambassador

A legation was a diplomatic representative office of lower rank than an embassy. Where an embassy was headed by an ambassador, a legation was headed by a minister. Ambassadors outranked ministers and had precedence at official events. Legations were originally the most common form of diplomatic mission, but they fell out of favor after World War II and were upgraded to embassies.

Bangkok Special administrative area in Thailand

Bangkok is the capital and most populous city of Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep. The city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres (605.7 sq mi) in the Chao Phraya River delta in central Thailand, and has a population of over eight million, or 12.6 percent of the country's population. Over fourteen million people lived within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region at the 2010 census, making Bangkok the nation's primate city, significantly dwarfing Thailand's other urban centres in terms of importance.

In October 1941 Japanese invasion of Thailand. Estes and other members of the legation were interned in with the Japanese soldiers guarding the gates for some time. On July 3, 1942 the legation staff was finally to be exchanged in repatriation on the Japanese liner. On July 12, 1941 at Lourenço Marques in Portuguese Mozambique (now Maputo in Mozambique) they were exchanged and transferred to the American ocean liner MS Gripsholm.

Repatriation process of returning assets to original owners

Repatriation is the process of returning an asset, an item of symbolic value or a person – voluntarily or forcibly – to its owner or their place of origin or citizenship. The term may refer to non-human entities, such as converting a foreign currency into the currency of one's own country, as well as to the process of returning military personnel to their place of origin following a war. It also applies to diplomatic envoys, international officials as well as expatriates and migrants in time of international crisis. For refugees, asylum seekers and illegal migrants, repatriation can mean either voluntary return or deportation.

Portuguese Mozambique 1498-1975 Portuguese possession in East Africa

Portuguese Mozambique or Portuguese East Africa were the common terms by which Mozambique was designated during the historic period when it was a Portuguese colony. Portuguese Mozambique originally constituted a string of Portuguese possessions along the south-east African coast, and later became a unified colony, which now forms the Republic of Mozambique.

Maputo City and Province in Mozambique

Maputo, officially named Lourenço Marques until 1976, is the capital and most populous city of Mozambique. Located near the southern end of the country, it is positioned within 120 km of the Eswatini and South Africa borders. The city has a population of 1,101,170 distributed over a land area of 347 km2. The Maputo metropolitan area includes the neighbouring city of Matola, and has a total population of 2,717,437. Maputo is a port city, with an economy centered on commerce. It is also noted for its vibrant cultural scene and distinctive, eclectic architecture.

1942 assigned to Algiers

August 25, 1942 Estes and family arrived in Washington. In Washington Estes received word that he had passed his written exams for the Foreign Service, was given his oral exams and passed. Estes was assigned to Ambassador Robert Murphy at the Office of the U.S. Political Advisor to General Eisenhower in the Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ), Algiers, Africa. Holbrook "Chappy" Chapman (from Bangkok) posted there as well. During this time Estes participated in the inspection of POW camps by the Swiss and was designated a "Special Naturalization Examiner." The duty of the Examiner was to naturalize Army soldiers that were not American citizens. Naturalization ceremonies took place in many dangerous places – such as the Anzio beach head.

Dorothy gave birth to a daughter, Elisabeth, in Oran, French Algeria, in April 1944.

1944 Caserta Italy

A little later it was decided to transfer Allied Force Headquarters from Algiers to Caserta, Italy, a few miles north of Naples and so began a road trip to Italy in the Studebaker. In May 1944 Estes was involved in the exchange of German prisoners in Algiers.

1945 Bronze Star

In August 1945 Estes was awarded the Army's Bronze Star for his Naturalization work on the Anzio beachhead.

1945 Meeting the Pope on the way to Salzburg Austria

About that time Estes received orders to transfer to Salzburg, Austria. At a stopover in Rome, Estes was invited to an all-priests luncheon by the American Monsignor whom Estes had met in Algiers. At the luncheon the Monsignor announced that the Pope wanted to meet with Estes the next morning. At the meeting the Pope emphasized his deep affection for the Austrian people. He hoped the U.S. would do everything possible to restore their freedom and peaceful existence.

Several months later Estes became eligible for home leave – two months back in the US. The family traveled in the Studebaker to Hamburg, driving through Germany.

1946 Quebec

At the end of this vacation Estes was told that he was to attend the Harvard Business School's three-month Advanced Management Program. In the meantime Estes was assigned to the Consulate in Quebec. The Studebaker had arrived back in the US and the family headed to Quebec. The family, and furnishings from Vienna arrived in Quebec several days later and the family settled into an apartment near the Consulate. Duties in Quebec involved issuing visas and certifying citizenship for young couples coming to Quebec to adopt children via the "Le Creche" organization. While in Quebec Estes met the former Queen Sophia of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire who was living in a Roman Catholic convent.

1950 State Department

In 1950 Estes was relocated back to Washington and posted to the State Department to handle assignments of staff to several countries in Europe. During this time Estes began a long road to a college degree by taking classes at American University. In September 1951 Estes' wife gave birth to a son, Stuart, in the Seventh Day Adventist hospital in Silver Springs Maryland.

Estes attended the Harvard Business School program. After graduation Estes was posted to Athens, Greece to become the Second Director of the Joint Administrative Service (JAS) supporting the effort of the several agencies that were involved in restoring economic stability to Greece. He traveled to Greece aboard the USS Constitution from New York with his family.

The JAS was directly or indirectly supported by AID - an economic and military assistance program designed to block the advance of Communism. Duties in Athens ranged from Personnel to Accounting to Payroll issues. Payroll was changed from Drachma's to checks. The payroll in drachmas filled two large suitcase was difficult to secure, count and manage.

Estes performed inspection tours in areas where the U.S. was engaged in active projects to help restore the Greek economy and to preclude Communist infiltration and obstruction to the AID efforts.

After Athens Estes returned to the US in 1956 and was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the State Department. His duties were to reorganize the General Service Office provided logistical support for the Department and its domestic and foreign offices. Tom reorganized the office into two major divisions and an executive staff. Previously the units of the organization had operated semi-autonomously for a long period of time and did not readily take to being part of a centrally directed organization. However over time the reorganization worked and essentially the same broad system of doing business is still in use today. Estes was also instrumental in the design of the new State Department building and proposed that the offices and floors be arranged in a way that reflected the tenants rank within the department.

Estes and his wife Dorothy divorced in 1957. In 1958 Estes married Ruth Fullerton in Maine.

On January 1, 1957 a time capsule for the State Department was filled with a newspaper, coins and other pertinent documents by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Deputy Under Secretary Loy Henderson, and Estes.

Ambassador to Upper Volta

In 1961 Estes was nominated as United States Ambassador to Upper Volta by President John F. Kennedy and was confirmed by the Senate. He oversaw smallpox and measles vaccination in the region, Upper Volta's recognition of the Taiwan, and U.S. support and interest in the region. On November 21, 1963, Estes and Charles Darlington were the last White House appointments [2] [3] before Kennedy's assassination the next day in Texas.

Estes and Ruth adopted a daughter, Jane, while in Upper Volta in 1965. That same year his daughter Betsy gave birth to Dean, Estes' first grandchild.

He left the post in Upper Volta on July 13, 1966 and for two years Estes served as the State Department Advisor to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Estes retired from the Foreign Service in 1969 in Newport.

1973 college diploma

In 1973 Estes received the college diploma, a bachelor's in Political Science from the University of Rhode Island.

1983 Japan-America Society and the Black Ships Festival

Estes served as the President of the Japan-America Society, which oversaw the Black Ships Festival, which celebrates Commodore Perry's first arrival, in black ships, in Shimoda, Japan in 1854 [4] that opened western trade after years of self-imposed isolation. Newport's sister city in Japan is Shimoda and in 1984 Estes was instrumental in getting the very first Black Ships Festival in Newport off the ground. The festival has been an annual event in Newport ever since.


On December 29, 2001, Estes died of congestive heart failure in the Freedom Village Nursing Center in Bradenton, Manatee County, Florida. He was aged 88 years, 340 days. He is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. [5] [6] He is survived by his children Betsy, Stuart and Jane as well, three grand children (Dean, Mathew and Michael) and three Great grand children (Justin, Brandon, Ryan Thomas).

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  1. ,"Tales of the Foreign Service" a radio dramatization of a day in Tom's Life in Peiping China
  2. , White House appointment log for November 1963
  3. , Photo of last White House appointment with Estes (center) and President Kennedy November 21, 1963
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-03-15. Retrieved 2013-02-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). The Origins of JASRI
  5. , Arlington National Cemetery Columbarium
  6. , Political Grave Yard website
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
R. Borden Reams
United States Ambassador to Burkina Faso
Succeeded by
Elliott P. Skinner