Lake Placid native starts new job as U.S. ambassador to Algeria
LAKE PLACID — When the Olympic Winter Games came here in 1980, an impressionable 15-year-old boy was so inspired by the international flavor of the event that he decided to leave his hometown and travel the world.
Now he’s the U.S. ambassador to Algeria.
“Growing up in a small town like Lake Placid, it’s your little small town and you think you know it and it’s your little part of the world that you understand,” said Ambassador John Desrocher. “Then the Olympics come, and you’re exposed to this extraordinary, huge community of people for this very intense period of time, and your head spins a little bit. You can’t help but sort of look around and say, ‘Well, all of this is very interesting, and I want to find out more about it.'”
Desrocher — the 1982 Lake Placid High School valedictorian — is now settling into his new job at the U.S. embassy in Algiers. Nominated by President Donald Trump in the summer, Desrocher and his wife Karen Rose recently moved to the North African country, where he celebrated his 53rd birthday on Saturday, Oct. 14.
“What I’m really hoping to do is to build a really positive relationship,” Desrocher said about the U.S. and Algerian people. He spoke with the News before taking the oath of office on Sept. 7 at the State Department in Washington, D.C. “My predecessor there did a great deal to push forward our economic relationship and our diplomatic relationship, and I want to continue that.”
With the Olympics sparking a curiosity about the wider world, by the time Desrocher was a high school senior, he had decided that working in the State Department might be a good career choice.
“I wouldn’t say I was really committed to anything at that point,” Desrocher said, “but my interest was piqued, and then obviously when I got to college and started studying, the interest grew.”
Lake Placid years
John P. Desrocher was born on Oct. 14, 1964 in Plattsburgh, the son of Roy and Mary Desrocher. The family, including older brother Michael, LPHS Class of 1980, moved to Lake Placid in January 1968. His parents would have one more child, daughter Victoria, the Northwood School Class of 1986 honor speaker.
A resident of Grandview Hill, John graduated from St. Agnes Catholic School in 1978 and the Lake Placid High School in 1982.
John’s mother still lives in Lake Placid. His father, a pharmacist who bought O’Neil’s Pharmacy when they moved to Lake Placid, died on April 30, 1982 in Hilton Head, South Carolina, the result of a swimming accident. In 1978, Roy Desrocher moved his business from 354 Main St. to the newly opened Cold Brook Plaza and changed the name to Plaza Pharmacy.
While the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee took over the Lake Placid High School to house the press corps, John had some time off to explore the Olympic Winter Games.
“We were fortunate,” he said. “We went to a number of the hockey games, was able to get to the USA-USSR hockey game. My mom and my sister were able to get to some of the figure skating stuff. We were able to see a fair bit of it. We were also keeping the pharmacy open and running. It was obviously a very busy time there, too, but we managed to work it out.”
One of John’s best memories of the Olympics — “of course” — was the Miracle on Ice game between the U.S. and Soviet Union. But there was so much going on that he can’t really pinpoint one memory as his absolute favorite.
“It was a really terrific place to grow up, and I still feel really lucky having come from there,” he said. “It’s a small town where everybody knows everybody. We were very comfortable there. There was a real sense of community, and there was a sense of a larger community spirit.”
Desrocher is a graduate of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a multiple recipient of the State Department’s Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards. He is a former Deputy Chief of Mission and Consul General overseas at seven U.S. missions and senior State Department official in Washington, D.C.
“It’s been a fascinating business,” he said. “I’m glad I ended up in it. It’s been a terrific way to make a living and a terrific profession, seeing extraordinary things, opportunities that not a lot of people have. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Desrocher is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and has served as an American diplomat since 1988, just before the Cold War with the Soviet Union and its satellite states of the Eastern Bloc ended. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Desrocher spent his early years serving in the U.S. embassies in Monrovia and Bonn as well as in the State Department Operations Center and Office of European Union Affairs. He served as State Department desk officer for Iraq in the mid-1990s and participated in Palestinian-Israeli economic negotiations while serving at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem in the late 1990s. While detailed to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, he led portions of free trade negotiations with Chile and Singapore.
He has extensive experience in international trade and in Middle East issues, and he speaks French, German and basic Arabic.
Desrocher was the Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo before serving as the U.S. Consul General in Auckland, New Zealand from 2006 to 2009. He served in Baghdad, Iraq from 2009 to 2010 as Minister Counselor for Economic Coordination, responsible for U.S.-Iraq economic policy issues and then served in the Department of State as the Director of the Office of Iraq Affairs, briefly as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Maghreb Affairs. In 2013 and 2014, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. In September 2014, he was named Deputy Assistant Secretary for Egypt and Maghreb Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the Department of State and was in that position until being named the U.S. ambassador to Algeria.
“My ultimate goal was really to get as much out of the career as I could,” Desrocher said. “There’s a real sense of service here. One thing that I’ve found very common with all of my colleagues is a sense of patriotism and a sense that serving abroad in the name of the United States is a real privilege and is a real honorable thing to do.”
Message to youth
During the interview, Desrocher made a point to promote careers at the State Department, which can be found online at www.state.gov/careers.
“That’s where people should go if they think this might be of interest to them,” he said. “It tells you all you need to know if somebody thinks that this might be something they want to look into more. I encourage people to do that. Obviously, I’m really thrilled that I did.”