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From Omaha to the World

October 01, 2018
By Deb Daley

As a Public Diplomacy Foreign Service Officer, she works with embassies in the Middle East and North Africa to ensure that U. S. policy, programs, and values are shared with people in those countries.  Mary Lou Johnson-Pizarro ’74 has traveled extensively throughout her career and feels Mercy was very influential in shaping who she is and the career path she chose.

Mary Lou was a member of St. Thomas More parish and joined one of her best friends (Laurie Kowal Straw ‘74) in attending Mercy High School.  She remembers the teachers being passionate about modeling behavior and teaching students how to be intelligent and capable Catholic women.  

“My classmates were fun and at times even a bit mischievous, but smart, curious and good-hearted.  I particularly enjoyed debate club and our ability to talk with teachers about the issues of the day.  I made lifetime friends and just this past week spent time with Robin Allen, another Mercy ’74 graduate,” she said.  

During her high school years, she also developed an interest in social justice and in fact is chairperson of her local parish’s social action committee that rewards funds to organizations in need.  

“At Mercy, I had many long conversations with fellow classmate Kate Dodson Sommers, and later Kate would be instrumental in founding the Komen Race for the Cure in Omaha.  I credit Kate with helping me find my passion in this topic,” she added.  

After she graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney August 1978 with a Bachelor’s in Arts with double-majors in history and sociology, she joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Jamaica for two years.  She eventually moved to Washington, D. C. where she worked for a few years, mostly with non-profits.  She went to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, graduated in 1988, and stayed in the Boston area where she worked in international development, specializing in education issues.  She first joined the U. S. Agency of International Development and then moved to the U. S. Department of State in 1999, where she continues to work today.  Along the way, she married and had one daughter, who recently graduated from the College of William and Mary and now works in Washington, D.C.  

“As a Foreign Service Officer, I have traveled extensively and have represented the U.S. in long-term tours in South Africa, Nigeria, and Venezuela.  I have chosen to work primary in the Americas and Africa, because these are nations that always fascinated me.  All these journeys have provided me and my family rich and memorable experiences I treasure,” she said. 

Mary Lou is currently posted to Washington, D. C. where she supports U. S. embassies in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and the Libya External Office, which is in Tunis, Tunisia on public diplomacy issues. 

“Being so far away it’s hard to be involved with Mercy, but I try to support the school.  I believe in Mercy’s mission to educate young women to contribute to Omaha and beyond, as it was the key in helping me find my spiritual pathway, but also fundamental in spurring an intellectual curiosity that allowed me to succeed in my professional career,” she added.