State Department linguist has the world at his feet
By Lisa Christensen
April 1, 2009-Logan | Dean Meservy's
passport is a rainbow. Stamped in a dizzying array of
stamps from countries all around the world, the Providence
native has certainly used it more than most people.
And being fluent in about a dozen languages, nine of
which he has mastered on a professional level, he never
feels very lost in whatever country he happens to find
himself in at the moment.
Meservy is a foreign service officer
assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, employed by
the Department of State. It isn't his first experience
living in Europe, though, as he lived in Germany for
three years and England for 12. In his post as a linguist
in those areas, he had the opportunity to travel all
over the continent. A linguist is someone skilled in
foreign affairs and languages, primarily in translation,
but that is as much of a description of Dean's job he
can give, the rest being confidential.
His interest in foreign affairs started
"My father gave me his Army-issue
German phrasebook from when he was in the occupation
forces in Germany. I loved memorizing all the cool phrases,
like 'Get help!' and 'Hands up or I will shoot!' and
'Are there soldiers in the area?' and 'I am injured
in the foot/leg/stomach/head/arm/elbow!'"
When he was in the sixth grade, he
learned the Russian alphabet so he could write secret
notes. Unfortunately, he said, he was the only one who
knew the Russian alphabet so he could only write notes
to himself. Then he had to learn the alphabet again
so he could understand what he had written.
The fourth son of Nile and Ellen
Meservy, Dean was born on Sept. 7, 1958, in Wenatchee,
Wash. His family moved from Wenatchee to Provo, Utah,
in 1964 and shortly thereafter up to Providence, where
they settled. He excelled in school and skipped a grade,
graduating from Sky View High School in 1975 at the
age of 16.
From there, he attended Utah State
University, nearly completing a business administration
degree before serving a mission for the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints to Porto Allegre, Brazil.
After returning home, he went back to college, completing
his business administration major as well as a second
major in political science with a minor in Russian.
He graduated in May 1982 and married his wife, Shaura,
that July. They moved out to Washington D.C. where he
received his M.S. in Russian and East European studies
from George Washington University in 1987.
That's when things get interesting.
"I didn't always think I'd
go into government service. Up until I went on my mission
my whole family was sure I was going to be a lawyer.
It was only during my mission that I changed my mind.
The business world attracted me," he said. "I had the
marvelous foresight to graduate with a business degree
in the middle of the worst recession since the Great
Depression (and still the worst except for the one we're
in now). No one was hiring. I knew I was doomed when
I couldn't even get hired on as an insurance salesman."
Luckily, the government was interested
in Russian, which he had studied for fun besides as
part of his minor, without the thought of it helping
him in the job market.
"I figured I could have fun
with language and foreign affairs until I got a real
job," he said. "I guess I still don't have a real job."
Dean's new job with the Department
of State assigned him, along with his wife and three
children (the youngest of whom at the time was only
days old), to Germany to begin his job as a linguist.
From there, the family returned stateside, living in
Maryland until he accepted a post in England in 1995.
They lived there for 11 years. By this time, the oldest
three of his now four children were grown and two of
them were attending universities in the United States.
Robert, the eldest, was a student in physics at Utah
State University and Sharah, the third child, was studying
theater at Brigham Young University: Hawaii. Larissa,
the second child and oldest daughter, had attended Brigham
Young University: Idaho, but had returned to England
to get married.
Because LDS temples are non-public
venues, members of the church are not allowed to be
married inside the temple. Instead, they must be married
legally and sealed within the temple within 24 hours.
Dean was the bishop of their ward at the time of Larissa's
"Dean married our daughter,"
Shaura said. "As her bishop he performed the 'legal'
ceremony in the York England chapel before we traveled
to the Preston England temple for the sealing."
With all the traveling the family
has done, it is easy to think they feel very lost and
homesick as they find themselves far away from extended
family. However, although this is in part the case,
people elsewhere have made for an acceptable substitute.
The Meservys are very active in the LDS Church, no matter
what country they are in. Dean has served in many leadership
positions besides as bishop and is now branch president
for their congregation. Members of their faith worldwide
immediately feel like family to the Meservys.
"We have been exceedingly blessed
to have church members who have become our replacement
family. They help us through hard times and celebrate
holidays with us as we fight homesickness together,"
Melece, the youngest in the family,
said she agrees. People often ask her what it is like
to move around so much, but she says she never quite
knows what to tell them because she's never felt like
she has moved a lot.
"Living overseas allowed me
to see the world which is a new culture within itself
I am only beginning to comprehend that now," she said.
"Living with my dad, I got to have a very culturally-filled
childhood. The stories he'd tell us of America seemed
very distant and unreal compared to the life in Europe
that I was living."
Dean has always taken every opportunity
to make the most of his international experience. Shaura
said he has a "phenomenal recall" for random facts and
trivia about any subject or place. His sister-in-law,
Charlette Meservy, calls him the "tour guide from Hell"
because of this ability, Shaura said. The children were
not spared from this education, either.
"We traveled so much and visited
so many places during our stay in England that the children
started to beg 'stay home, please, during our next school
break,'" Shaura said. "'No more castles or museums!'"
She said when they returned to Maryland,
she never wanted to go to another tourist sight or museum
for the rest of her life, or even pack a suitcase again.
One year later, they arrived in Moscow, where they are
now, to live for two years. Their travels aren't done,
either Dean has already applied for his next job assignment,
which will also be foreign.
Melece said she has only recently
begun to realize that her father and her life aren't
quite like everyone else's. Hearing about him learning
to read at age 3 or being in college at 17 didn't seem
odd until she found herself at that age, unable to make
that milestone herself.
"I always knew he was smart
enough to help me with my homework and speak other languages,
but other than that, he was just my dad," Melece said.
"Your father doesn't start getting intimidating until
you start becoming an adult yourself, and then you realize
that his skills at your age far surpass yours."
Shaura said Dean's aptitude for languages
helps not only on foreign assignments but on vacation,
"Being married to a genius
has its moments ... He relaxes from a hard day working
in Russian by reading a grammer book of Italian," she
said. "Before we visit another country he always studies
a phrase book and arrives with basic survival language."
They recently visited Egypt, she
said, where he "thrilled taxi drivers with his ability
to converse in their language." He is humble about his
abilities, however, brushing off any claims of genius.
"He really takes his talent
for granted," Shaura said. "When I call him a genius,
he just gives me the 'Nah, not me.'"