Dorothea Louise Schaller Bonavito (1922 – 2009) shared many qualities with the intrepid Aunt Dot of Rose Macaulay’s novel: fierce independence, avid interest in world events, and above all, an irrepressible passion for travel. The U.S. Foreign Service enabled Dot to see the world — her way.
Nothing in Dot’s conventional youth foretold what was to come. Born in 1922 in Portland, Oregon, Dotty lost her father Alfred Schaller in a plane crash when she was four years old. Her widowed mother Martha Koenig Schaller moved “home” again, to live with her parents and sister in San Francisco. Here Dot grew up in a staunch, German-speaking Lutheran family. Her great-grandfather Jacob Buehler founded the St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco.
Dot went to Stanford University and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1943. She married uniformed Joseph Bonavito in early 1944, one of the many young brides during World War II. One might expect Dot to become a suburban housewife, raising her children and baking cookies.
But not Dot.
By 1948, the 25-year old Dot was divorced and working for the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Frankfurt during the Allied Occupation of Germany. This was the time of the war trials and Dot spoke fluent German. A chance meeting with statesman George Kennan sealed Dot’s decision to join the U.S. Foreign Service. Over the next thirty years, Dot was stationed in Pakistan and India in the early 1950s, lived La Dolce Vita in Naples and Rome in the late 50s, worked in Mozambique and Cameroon during the early 1960s as colonialism gave way to independence, and reached her goal of being the U.S. Ambassador’s Secretary to the UN in Geneva and in Rome, Bangkok, and Paris.
In 1984 Dot retired from the Foreign Service in Paris. “I want to travel quickly before money, the world, and I deteriorate further.” Over the next 16 years, she continued her whirlwind travels until she was “running out of ‘new’ places to go. In 2003, Dot moved back home to San Francisco where she lived until her death in 2009.
“When I was young, I was eager to leave San Francisco and ‘see the world.’ Now I have seen the world.”
The book, I Did It My Way: The Travel Adventures of Dorothea Bonavito, 1948 – 2000, offers a fascinating glimpse of Dot’s travel adventures — written by Dot herself.