WALNUT CREEK -- Franklin Burroughs watched from his office window in Tehran as members of the Islamic Republic climbed over the walls of the U.S. Embassy compound and claimed it as their own.

That was in 1979, when Burroughs was the executive director of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Iran -- which once represented the ousted Shah to President Jimmy Carter. He quickly realized the imperative of his exodus from the country, and returned to American soil, at first unaccompanied by his Persian wife Mahin and their two daughters.

"I was able to integrate the two cultures; I never felt like a foreigner," he says of the 15 years they spent in Tehran, and his reluctant departure.

Frank Burroughs of Walnut Creek, a professor at JFK University in Pleasant Hill, listens to a reader who asked him to sign his book "The Pepper Tree
Frank Burroughs of Walnut Creek, a professor at JFK University in Pleasant Hill, listens to a reader who asked him to sign his book "The Pepper Tree Kingdom" at the Walnut Creek Library in Walnut Creek, Calif., Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Burroughs worked as executive director of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Iran before he fled the country in 1979. Burroughs read from his book and signed autographs at the library event. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

Soon after, Burroughs' name appeared on the list of U.S. citizens who were ordered not to leave the country.

His oldest daughter, then 12, recently told him of the terrifying experience when men wielding guns came to their apartment, inquiring of their father's whereabouts.

Now a Walnut Creek resident, Burroughs describes the event in his recent memoir, which begins a retelling of a compelling journey that weaves together the threads of his quest to find his authentic self.

And, like other young children seeking out cherished spots where their imaginations can run free, Burroughs, at age 5, found his in a lone pepper tree that stood next to a shanty-like apartment in Wilmington, Calif., where he lived with his beloved "functionally illiterate" grandmother.


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"The swing (hanging from the tree branch) became like a throne. I could pursue ideas I wasn't sure of. I gave myself permission to imagine," he says of the more spiritually expansive path on which he embarked, shedding what he describes as a legalistic Christian orientation.

Burroughs, a former business manager at Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church, however, credits his father -- even if he was a strict fundamentalist -- with "instilling in (him) an overwhelming appetite to learn about the spiritual realm."

Burroughs' boyhood fascination with stories of the Old Testament foretold a visit to Iran, he said, adding that his wife, who died several years ago, "represented the strength of the Persian culture," and his time in Iran bred a greater self-confidence.

And as that experience beneath his cherished tree became a virtual one, where Burroughs could return in his mind's eye, it became the title of the memoir, "The Pepper Tree Kingdom" (Azalea Art Press, 2013).

The professor of international business at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill hopes his journey to self might help others on a similar path of personal discovery.

"I have more of an understanding as I take the next step," he says. "I feel more authentic than I ever did. Now I can be myself and go forward. It's such a liberating feeling."

Frank Burroughs of Walnut Creek, a professor at JFK University in Pleasant Hill, signs a copy of his book "The Pepper Tree Kingdom" at the Walnut
Frank Burroughs of Walnut Creek, a professor at JFK University in Pleasant Hill, signs a copy of his book "The Pepper Tree Kingdom" at the Walnut Creek Library in Walnut Creek, Calif., Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Burroughs worked as executive director of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Iran before he fled the country in 1979. Burroughs read from his book and signed autographs at the library event. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

Burroughs' characteristic diplomatic bent toward understanding myriad cultures inspires those with whom he comes in contact to this day. He has studied their languages and with an open heart has long tried to understand situations from the appropriate cultural lens. Burroughs has a doctorate in Middle East history and comparative education. He still works under contract as an English language officer for the U.S. Department of State, also hosting foreign dignitaries.

His wife's cousin, Davoud Nassiri, recalls their initial meeting in Tehran: Burroughs' gentle, quiet demeanor and insatiable curiosity, and their ensuing 50-year friendship.

"He didn't have this chip on his shoulder," said Nassiri, who lives in San Diego. "Frank is very tactful. The new people he meets, the culture where he is living, he's so detailed (about his approach). He was always very interested in learning the actual meaning of expressions."