For 14 months John William (Jack) Limbert maintained the composure appropriate to a former officer in the Foreign Service, keeping a secret about his hostage son that added an extra measure of tension to life in his Foggy Bottom apartment.
While relatives of many of the hostages regularly gave interviews to hometown reporters, the few references to John W. Limbert Jr. Noted only that he was a 37-year-old State Department economics officer whose divorced father and mother live in Washington and Balitmore respectively and who also has a "wife and two children."
What couldn't be revealed was that Limbert's wife is a naturalized American citizen of Iranian decent with relatives caught inside that revolutiontorn nation who might have been targets of reprisal if their identities had become known.
Throughout John Limbert's captivity, his wife Parvaneh, daughter Mandanna, 11 and son Shervin, 9, lived in virtual seclusion in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, across the Persian Gulf from their hostage husband and father.
The security surrounding her identity was so tight that when Limbert landed in West Germany early yesterday, he couldn't call his wife because U.S. officials at the hospital in Weisbaden didn't have her telephone number. Limbert got it by calling one of his sisters, Lois Witt, in Bethesda at 3 a.m.
Parvaneh Limbert told reporters in Jedday yesterday she talked for an hour with her husband. "We did not want to put the telephone down," she said.
In Washington, the first sight the family got of a liberated John Limbert was of him standing between the two women among the released hostages. When he called his sister early yesterday, he explained that he was telling Elizabeth Ann Swift that his sister and her mother had had dinner together in Bethesda one day last summer.
"He looked like he was doing very good, between two women," his father said with a laugh.
His mother, Dorothy, who also received a telephone call from Weisbaden, said he sounded "very, very good."
The two talked for a half-hour starting about 7:30 a.m. yesterday, and after about five minutes of how-are-yous, "we had a nice chat," she said.
Mrs. Limbert, a Balitmore psychotherapist, said her son's sense of humor seemed intact.
"Johnny, I called the embassy several times and left a message, but you never called me back," she said she jokingly told him. "And he said, ' know, Mom. I got the message, but I just didn't have the money."
Mrs. Limbert, who taught at the Tehran School of Social Work when her then-husband was stationed there, said she understood why the embassy takeover occurred, "and so did Johnny."
Dependency makes for anger, she said. "Iran depended on America for years, but nothing ever came of it."
She said her son's wife and children were leaving Saudi Arabia last night for a reunion in Washinton, possibly this weekend.
In a telephone conversation with his father yesterday afternoon, Limbert estimated that he had spent the equivalent of none of the 14 months in isolation. He congratulated his father for picking up his clue about isolation, when he wrote that he was "studying chess," for both men understood that the son already knew how to play chess. Not all the hostages were held in isolation, so he asked why they had chosen him "and they said because I was important. I hope the State Department thinks so, too," he told his dad.
His physical examination showed him to be "in good shape," he reported, but told his dad that he needed shoes and a watch.
By midafternoon yesterday, Limbert had talked to all of his close relatives, including his other sister, Valerie Olson of Balitmore, and his wife's family in various locations.
Twice since the Nov. 4, 1979, embassy takeover in Tehran, Parvaneh Limbert and the children visited here. But because of their need for secrecy and the intensity of antiIranian feelings, their vists were "very low profile," Limbert's father, Jack, said in an interview Sunday.
If any good came of the long-delayed release of the 52 Americans, the elder Limbert observed, it was that it allowed time for his sons's inlaws to flee Iran for safety in the United States and Europe.
Jack Limbert was sure that his son was sharing his ambivalent reactions to events in Iran. It was surely his parents who nurtured John Limbert's love for Iran and the Iranian people.
"We still have strong feelings for the Iranian People," Jack Limbert said while awaiting word that the oft-delayed release of the hostages was completed. "But not for their so-called government."
While many Washingtonians spent part of 1980 cursing and chasing Iranian students through the streets virtually outside the Limberts' comfortable apartment across from the State Department, Jack Limbert and his wife Betsy kept silent. Once they accompanied a sixth-floor neighbor, a wealthy Iranian, to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to help her cut through bureaucratic red tape so she could remain in this country.
As the elder Limberts waited last weekend for news of the agreement that would free their son, a voice coming from the small portable radio on the dining room table explained that part of the delay was because all of the official documents had to be translated into three languages -- English, French and Farsi (Persian).
"John could be a help with that -- he's a whiz at Farsi," his father mused.
When Richard Queen, the hostage who was released last year because of illness, saw limbert via Algerian television on Tuesday night, he recalled that "some of the militants said Limbert spoke better Farsi than they did."
Jack Limbert has vivid images of the American compound where his son was confined. "I can see myself walking through that hallway. John and I were there together once, to get a permit to buy liquor -- I picked up six or eight quarts of Scotch," he said, talking a big gulp of wine to shroud his emotions.
John Limbert, a 1960 graduate of the District's Wilson High School, first went to Iran in 1962 to visit his father, a State Department officer assigned to the U.S. Operations Mission, Forerunner of the Agency for International Development. After a month a Tehran, the younger Limbert decided to acquire a minor in Middle East affairs to complement his major field, Russian studies.
Upon graduation, magna cum laude, from Harvard in 1964, Limbert joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Sanandaj, the Kurdistan capital of Iran. He learned Farsi so quickly and so expertly that non-Iranians say "he speaks with a Tehran accent," his father said.
In Sanandaj, Limbert reported to his father that he had fallen in love with "the culture and the people," the latter of whom included a dark-eyed daughter of a physician who was his colleague at the local high school. They married on June 19, 1966.
Limbert and his Iranian bride came to the United States that fall, and he worked on his doctorate at Harvard until May 1969, when he got a fellowship to study the Persian poets in Shiraz, "the city of nightingales and roses." The remained in Iran until the summer of 1972, during which time their two children were born. Limbert taught English and American history at Pahlavi University.
Upon their return to America, Limbert finished his PhD and was sworn in as a Foreign Service Officer. He later was assigned to the United Arab Emirates, and after two years as an economics officer in Abu Dhabi, became head of the suboffice in Dubay.
On home leave in the summer of 1976, the Limberts vacationed in Vermont, and decided to build a home there, in Hawk Mountain Colony near Pittsfield. The house has been completed during his captivity.
After Dubay, the Limberts went to Tunis, where both he and his wife studied Arabic for 15 months. When he was posted to Saudi Arabia, his wife signed on in the U.S. consulate office in Jeddah, and when he was transferred to Tehran in the summer of 1979, his family stayed in Jeddah.
Limbert commuted between the two cities until he was taken hostage.