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Medford roots reach Slovenia

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Brent Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to Slovenia, has traveled all over the world, including Pakistan, Egypt and many regions of Europe, as a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service.

But visiting his home in Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital, it's impossible to not be reminded that he was born and raised in Medford and see his evident pride in that heritage.

A photo book of Crater Lake National Park sits on the piano in the living room and a pair of historic black-and-white photos of the lake from 1911 and 1913 hang on the walls.

"I remember how fun it was to feed the squirrels and chipmunks," he said of boyhood trips to Crater Lake.

Late July or early August visits were routine because his mother, Louise, relished the colorful displays in the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden. But it wasn't until he was older that Hartley drove around Rim Drive, climbed Mount Scott and Union Peak and, in 2005, took his first lake boat tour, which he values because "it was an interesting new perspective."

Born in Medford 61 years ago, Hartley has Crater Lake and Southern Oregon in his DNA. Although he has mostly lived and worked on the East Coast since graduating from Medford High in 1973, "At heart I'm still a small-town Oregon boy."

And because of his West Coast roots, he believes, "I can bring a perspective my colleagues maybe can't bring."

Another part of Hartley's perspective comes from his unquenchable thirst to learn about and experience the places he's lived and worked. Since arriving in Slovenia in early 2015, he's dedicated most weekends to hiking the country's abundant trails with Maisie, a Wheaton terrier — "She's my hiking buddy" — and members of the embassy staff.

One of his outings was to the summit of Mount Triglav, at 9,395 feet the highest mountain in the Julian Alps. Triglav, which is visible from many areas of Slovenia, is featured on the nation's flag. It's said climbing Triglav is a requirement to be regarded a true Slovenian.

"Triglav is such an iconic symbol here," he's said. "It is a challenge. Not everybody can stroll up it. I want to climb it again."

Among the dozens of photographs on his residence's walls is a framed image of Hartley atop Triglav, which was signed by his proud embassy staff.

"I think it helps you to relate to the people," he said of his familiarity with Slovenia's countryside, not just sequestering himself in Ljubljana. "Your job as an ambassador is to find ways to connect with people ... that's where the economic diplomacy is done."

He says making "people-to-people" connections is one of his goals as ambassador. "Make them aware of what America is about," Hartley said, noting those views are often negative because international news is typically focused on crime and killings. Instead, he tries to emphasize that "the United States is a remarkable place full of friendly, creative people."

Hartley said the recent "twinning" agreement — he was a speaker at the ceremonies formalizing the pact between Crater Lake and Triglav national parks — will foster an exchange of ideas and understanding, which he termed as "another example of the things we try to do."

Other responsibilities include serving as the U.S. president's personal representative and carrying out the president's foreign policy, such as deepening good political relationships through NATO and the European Union.

"The Slovenians are good allies," he said, noting the country has deployed troops to NATO conflicts and supported anti-terrorism efforts.

A major economic goal is "looking for opportunities for American businesses," such as offering advice on ways to help Slovenia — which for decades was part of communist Yugoslavia — shift from having mostly state-owned to privately owned businesses.

After decades of working for the State Department in other jobs, including sometimes tense years focused on security and policy issues, Hartley accepted an offer to serve as the ambassador to Slovenia. "It's quite a tremendous honor for me to be an ambassador," he said.

The Slovenia assignment means Hartley mostly lives alone. His wife, Elizabeth Dickinson — they'll celebrate their 36th anniversary in December — stays at their family home near Washington, D.C., where she is the senior counsel in the Food and Drug Division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They take turns making visits to Ljubljana and Washington, D.C. The couple has two grown children, Eleanor, 28, and Charles, 26.

When staying in Slovenia, Hartley's free hours have focused on being outside.

"Because I spend so much time hiking, I have not spent as much time in the vineyards," he said with a laugh, referring to Slovenia's wine country.

He has no regrets about working and living in Slovenia because, "It's familiar enough to feel comfortable and different enough to be interesting."

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.