Mark Evans Austad, 71, the former Utahn who died this week after years of distinguished private and public service, was perhaps best known for being a highly successful ambassador to Finland and then to Norway - double duty rare for someone not a career diplomat.
But those who knew him best had no trouble pinpointing his success. Simply put, he was an incredibly hard worker. Combined with a zest for life that found everything interesting, he managed to cram a wide variety of accomplishments into his years.Born in Ogden of Norwegian immigrant parents, he passed up law school for a chance to get into radio with KSL. From there, he traveled East, first with the military and later with CBS radio, eventually becoming a widely known commentator in Washington, D.C. Later he became a top official at the broadcasting firm of Metromedia.
He worked actively with many groups, including the Boy Scouts, the Peace Corps, the National Chamber of Commerce, the Disabled American Veterans, and others, and was honored for his deep commitment to freedom. His travels and films caused him to be invited an unusual eight times to speak before the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. In all of this, he never forgot his Utah roots and his deeply-felt ties to the LDS Church.
As ambassador to Finland in 1974-77, and Norway in 1981-84, he plunged in, worked nearly around the clock in many instances, traveled widely, and made many friends. Finland knighted him, the first such honor given by that country to any American diplomat. Later, in Norway, he was awarded the grand cross of St. Olaf's Order, the highest award given to a foreigner.
As was said of him at his farewell party in Norway: "He has been the best." No one could ask for a better epitaph to a remarkable life.