Meet Patricia Doling, who has been connecting NATO to the world since 1963

  • 18 Mar. 2024 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 28 Mar. 2024 16:20

Patricia Doling is a British-French citizen who has contributed to NATO’s outreach communications for over four decades. Among many transformative changes, Patricia witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtain; the move of the Alliance’s Headquarters from Porte Dauphine, in Paris, to a new site in Brussels, Belgium; and the multiple technological advances that characterised the photography and multimedia landscape in the second half of the 20st century. Learn how Patricia Doling joined NATO and how she built a career dedicated to illustrating the Alliance’s history through photo and video storytelling.

Patricia at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium in the late sixties

From Bristol to Paris

Born in Bristol, UK, in the midst of the political and socioeconomic turmoil that characterised the end of the Second World War, Patricia grew up dreaming of helping to build a safer world that was quickly taking shape. The British-French national first started a career in private banking, but after learning that an international organisation in Paris was looking for shorthand typists through a newspaper advertisement, she decided to go for it, moved to France and eventually joined NATO as a civilian in 1963.

"I had an overriding ambition to see the world, and Paris seemed like a good place to start. It was, understandably, with some trepidation but also a huge sense of adventure that I embarked on what was to be a 40-year career in the pursuit of international goodwill and peace and what were to be the most memorable years of my life."

Ahead of time, Patricia decided to relocate to follow her professional aspirations. Her choice was met with some resistance from her close family, but that did not hold her back.

"My decision was a problem for my mother as she believed that the only acceptable reason for a girl to leave home was to be married – clearly I had other ideas. My destination was Paris, France – beautiful, exciting and one of the world's most romantic cities – the antithesis of provincial England in the early 60s."

Working in NATO's communications

Patricia joined NATO as a member of the English typing pool, the team designated to type NATO classified and unclassified documents onto stencils for mass distribution. However, it was not until six months later that she found her vocation in NATO's Information Division, the Alliance's main public interface with worldwide audiences. Today called the Public Diplomacy Division, it was responsible for promoting dialogue and understanding, by explaining the Alliance's policies and activities to the wider public and by coordinating outreach activities such as media relations, group visits to the NATO Headquarters, public engagements, and the preparation and dissemination of information through film, television, radio, photography and publications.  

Throughout her 40-year career at NATO, Patricia worked in media production and explored different communication formats. Initially, as a Secretary and Assistant Photo Librarian in the NATO Photo Office, Patricia dealt with press relations and answered journalists' requests for photos. She distributed contents from the Alliance's extensive library of black and white photos. Patricia documented NATO's history by making available photographic registries of summits and ministerial meetings in Brussels and abroad, VIP visits to the NATO Headquarters, multinational military exercises, and other historical events.

Patricia (centre) and the Photo Librarian assist a  journalist during a ministerial meeting in Iceland, June 1968.

Patricia (centre) and the Photo Librarian assist a journalist during a ministerial meeting in Iceland, June 1968.

NATO Headquarters moves from Paris to Brussels

Patricia's time working in NATO's Photo Office coincided with the Alliance's move from Porte Dauphine, Paris, to a new site in Brussels in October 1967. Patricia still remembers it as a time of many emotions, not only due to the arduous task of moving NATO's photo library to a different country, but also because she had to say goodbye to some of her co-workers who did not join her at the new Headquarters.

"The move to Brussels in 1967 was quite traumatic and many of our colleagues and friends did not follow. It also meant packing our photo archives into boxes, which was a considerable physical effort. Brussels, of course, was not Paris, but was nevertheless a new and different personal experience."

  • Following France's decision to withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure in 1966, the Alliance moved from Porte Dauphine to a new Headquarters in Brussels.
    • Following France's decision to withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure in 1966, the Alliance moved from Porte Dauphine to a new Headquarters in Brussels. Left to right: the Photo Librarian, Françoise Gevers, with Patricia and the Head of Photos, Marc Nicolas.
  • The move was felt heavily by the NATO Photo Office team, which had to ensure the transportation and preservation of NATO's historical photo archive from Paris to Brussels.
    • The move was felt heavily by the NATO Photo Office team, which had to ensure the transportation and preservation of NATO's historical photo archive from Paris to Brussels. Patricia (in the photo) remembers how this task took several weeks to accomplish.

In the early 1970s, in her new role as Production Assistant, Patricia worked with film, TV and radio. Among other tasks, she worked closely with NATO's film director and editor in the recording of short films and oversaw the continuity of the process. One of her most challenging projects – "Barriers" (1983) – was a documentary illustrating events in the post-war period leading to the formation of NATO, narrated by a famous voice.

"I met the American actor Charlton Heston in Paris on mission to record his commentary for "Barriers".  After the recording, which took place in a film studio, the team from Brussels took him to lunch. It was an interesting encounter."

Beyond having the chance to meet iconic personalities from her time, Patricia would often travel to different locations to work on ministerial meetings and would sometimes accompany NATO photographers who covered these events and also toured the host countries to document famous national landmarks and other places.

"The most memorable destination I travelled to was Iceland due to its very special landscape, hot springs, geysers, etc."

  • In June 1987, the spring ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council took place in Reykjavik, Iceland.
    • In June 1987, the spring ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council took place in Reykjavik, Iceland.
  • Together with her team, Patricia would often visit different NATO Allies during press tours.
    • Film producers together with their team would often document national landmarks in Allied countries in NATO communications

At the peak of her NATO career, Patricia became the Manager of the Multimedia Photo and Video Libraries. For 14 years, Patricia provided photos and videos to journalists from around the world directly over the counter or via written requests. This meant supporting them in their media coverage while maintaining and classifying media materials on a daily basis.

A project Patricia holds dear to her heart

On the occasion of the Alliance's 40th anniversary, Patricia worked on the production of "Citizens of the World" (1989), a documentary film that delves into the story of NATO from its creation in the post-war period until the fall of the Berlin Wall. It looked forward to a vision of an undivided Europe and a home for citizens of the world.

Patricia was heavily involved in the production of this feature film, having to travel to different film locations in Paris.

Patricia (centre) and the Photo Librarian assist a  journalist during a ministerial meeting in Iceland, June 1968.

Life after NATO

Patricia retired from her NATO career in 2004, after serving the Alliance for more than 40 years. Today, she divides her time between volunteering in a service organization dedicated to youth and leadership building, spending time with close friends and family, and learning the Portuguese language with Algarve locals.   
 

Portrait of Patricia Doling
Patricia Doling's message for the Alliance's 75th anniversary

Congratulations on all NATO has achieved and good luck for the future.

I have many happy memories working for the Alliance. I often think about my time in Paris and in Brussels and remember my ex-colleagues, some of whom I have kept in touch even those of my Paris days. 

When we get together, which is now rather rarely, we reminisce about our NATO experiences. Looking back. I certainly do not regret having taken the step back in the 1960s to leave my home and family in provincial England to venture into continental Europe. It was quite an adventure!

This article is part of the 75th anniversary #WeAreNATO series.

These interviews feature former NATO staff members, who share their personal stories and first-hand experiences related to the Alliance's key moments and historic turning points, such as the Cold War and 1989, the first out-of-area missions, partnerships, 9/11 and more.