By Michael Mosettig, Foreign Editor, PBS News Hour

Considering that there are nearly 180 embassies clamoring for attention in Washington, it takes some special talent and skill for press attaches and counselors from middle and small nations to make distracted journalists and officials to pay them much mind.


One who did was Nina Ersman, who served as Press Counselor for the Swedish embassy at the turn of the century. In the weeks following her premature death at 65 from cancer, she is being recognized for keeping her country and its diplomats front and center in Washington. Her formula was simple: get out of the office and meet as many people as you can.

Some of us who have been on this beat for decades think she was about the best counselor from a mid-sized nation ever to serve in this city.

Being a former journalist herself probably helped, but not all of them make the transition effectively. Nina was smart, shrewd and could converse knowledgeably on a wide range of subjects. She was stylish, had a wide range of contacts and entertained marvelously at her Georgetown house where interesting crowds of Swedes, Europeans and Americans would merrily gather over good food and drink. She had the ear and respect of her ambassadors and foreign ministers. She knew the politics and sociology of Europe and the United States. She could be serious, when the situation required it and great fun and funny when those qualities were in order. She could hold her own equally in a bar or think tank seminar.

After journalistic tours in New York and Brussels, she became Swedish Press Counselor in Paris. After Washington, she returned home to serve as Public Relations Officer at the Foreign Ministry in Stockholm. There she had the brutal task –handled with aplomb amid sadness –of coping with the murder of her minister in a local department store. She came back to the United States as Consul General in Los Angeles.

Her interests and talents were wide ranging. She loved ancient and modern Greece. She commented widely and wisely on various aspects of American life. My favorite, during a party at the German embassy that included a dance band: how few American men enjoyed dancing.

Surviving are siblings and nieces and nephews as well as many friends and colleagues in Washington and around the world who remember her with equal measures of respect and fondness.