Jane Catherine Gaffney (July 30, 1947-December 7, 2022)
Retired diplomat Jane Catherine Gaffney died of stomach cancer December 7 at her home in Bethesda, Maryland.
She devoted her life to interpreting Middle Eastern politics and cultures, especially via Arabic-language television drama serials, and was an invaluable resource for diplomats and scholars interested in Arab culture. One remarked on her “intellect forever curious and engaged.”
Jane was born in 1947 while her father was serving in the Navy in Norfolk, Virginia. She spent her childhood in New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, and Washington DC, and graduated from high school at Ursuline Academy in Bethesda.
The film Lawrence of Arabia sparked Jane’s interest in the Middle East, especially its visual and media cultures. Jane studied Arabic at Georgetown and earned a BA (1968) in International Relations of the Middle East at American University. While pursuing a Masters (1970) in Applied Linguistics at the American University in Cairo, Jane formed lifelong friendships with Arabist colleagues and notables like film director Youssef Chahine and architect Hassan Fathy. In 1970 Jane joined the faculty at Haigazian College in Lebanon, where she transformed the TOESL Program into the College Skills Program. She studied anthropology at the American University of Beirut and spent two summers conducting ethnographic fieldwork among the Beni Sakhar tribe near Amman, Jordan. Jane’s mountain home in Fayadiyyah, Lebanon was a popular stop-over for friends traveling in the Middle East. Acquaintances remember how Jane enjoyed connecting people even as she suffered from cancer: “There she is again, reuniting us all with love, memories and everlasting friendship we hold so dear towards her,” one friend wrote.
In 1975 Jane joined the faculty at Kuwait University where she taught English for over a decade. She traveled often to India and became an expert on Indian cinema while also following Arab media and popular culture. In 1987, Jane was recruited by the United States Information Agency for its mid-level entry Arabist program. Jane coordinated U.S. diplomacy in Sudan from temporary offices in Embassy Nairobi, served as Director of the American Cultural Center in Cairo and in Morocco, and lent her deep expertise in Arab society as a diplomat in Jerusalem. In Washington, she served as Director of West Africa and Central Africa offices. Ambassador Carney notes of Jane’s work in Sudan: "Jane's grasp of culture and Sudanese style opened lines to the ruling political movement and brought younger figures to understand that America did not object to their beliefs, but rather to some of their actions." Dr. Bedri, president of Ahfad University in Khartoum, wrote: “We at Ahfad University for Women benefited from Jane’s endeavors to expand educational ties between the two countries by establishing our twinning linkage with Iowa State University. Her unbureaucratic and friendly style rendered her office accessible to Sudanese from different walks of life.”
In 2010 Jane retired from her academic and diplomatic careers to Maryland where she raised rescue dogs, most recently her beloved Mocha, with her sister Barbara.
Jane was among the first to recognize the growing social and political significance of media and popular culture in the Middle East. She published one of the earliest scholarly treatments of Arab film “Egyptian Cinema” in the Arab Studies Quarterly and spoke on representations of the Kurds in Turkish television at the University of Maryland. Her newsletter “Expressions” offered colleagues and friends incisive analyses of Arabic-language entertainment media and music.
Preceded in death by her parents, George and Catherine Gaffney, and her sister Margaret, Jane is survived by her sister Barb, her brother Joe (Montana), her nephews Brandon and Timothy (Kalie), and her great nephew Wells. Contributions in her memory may be made to the Jane Gaffney Reimaging the Peoples of the Middle East Fund (http://ispu.org/janes-fund).