History teacher Marty McKibbin used to linger over lunch with some of his favorite students at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, then a military academy complete with buttoned-up uniforms, talking about the war in Vietnam long before much of the rest of the nation was paying attention.
One of McKibbin's most frequent sparring partners in the mid-1960s was a young man named John R. Bolton, a scholarship student from Southwest Baltimore who was his teacher's political opposite.
Bolton even referred to his instructor as "Mao" McKibbin - not to his face, of course.
"The students then were conservative, much more than they are now, but John went beyond conservative," McKibbin recalled. "His views then are very much in keeping with the Bush administration now, even though he still goes a bit beyond."
Bolton's path from Baltimore has taken him to fine schools, jobs with Washington law firms and conservative think tanks, and progressively higher-level posts in GOP administrations beginning with Ronald Reagan's.
Last week, after years as a caustic critic of the United Nations, Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, was nominated to a new position: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Since his nomination, Bolton, 56, has been the subject of scathing editorials -The New York Times compared his appointment to naming newly released ex-con Martha Stewart to run the Securities and Exchange Commission - and criticism from Senate Democrats, who promised challenging confirmation hearings, as yet unscheduled.
Democrats questioned why someone who has repeatedly spoken so undiplomatically would be asked to represent the United States at the United Nations, especially when the Bush administration is trying to mend fences with allies.
He has also received a tepid response from some Republicans, who worry that his nomination might signal a harder line by the administration toward the world body.
Bolton's supporters describe him as the tonic the United Nations needs, a tough talker who can help the organization regain a larger role in world politics.
"I consider myself an advocate," Bolton told the McDonogh alumni magazine in a January interview for a story that will appear in its spring issue. "Frequently you hear diplomacy described as a skill of keeping things calm and stable and so on, and there's an element of that. But basically, American diplomats should be advocates for the United States. That's the style I pursue."
John Robert Bolton, the son of a city firefighter and a homemaker, grew up in a brick rowhouse in a working-class neighborhood behind Mount St. Joseph High School.
His parents taught him and his younger sister, Joni Enos, a registered nurse in Sykesville, to fight with their words, not with their hands.
It appears their son took that advice to heart.
Visits to the Pratt
His late mother, Virginia, recognizing her son's intelligence, took him to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where she nurtured his interest in reading.
Bolton has told of trolley rides down Frederick Avenue as a fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grader to the library's headquarters on Cathedral Street, where he would return two books, take out two more and head home via the Paca Street firehouse where his father, Edward Jackson Bolton, known as Jack, was at work.
It was his mother who noticed an announcement about scholarships to McDonogh, a prestigious private school in Baltimore County.
She signed him up to take the admissions test; McDonogh accepted him. He started there in the seventh grade, living in the dormitory on campus until graduation.
Though a member of the firefighters union, Jack Bolton was also a Republican. Friends remember hearing about the elder Bolton trying to register to vote as a Republican but being told union members couldn't be Republicans.
After some back and forth, a compromise was reached: Jack Bolton, a Goldwater supporter, could register as an independent.
Meanwhile, at McDonogh, John Bolton was running the Students for Goldwater campaign. In his interview with the alumni magazine, he remembers the vote total.
It was close, much closer than the actual national race: Goldwater, 139 votes, to President Lyndon B. Johnson's 152.
Tim Wright, a classmate at McDonogh who is now a District Court judge in Chesapeake, Va., remembers working on that race with Bolton.
He recalls Bolton as fervent in his support.
"He was very bright, very studious, even in those days," Wright said in a telephone interview last week. "He had very strong beliefs. He was clearly focused, probably much more focused than most of his other classmates."
McDonogh's yearbook pages from those years reveal no surprises. Bolton - president of the history club and the chess club, member of the drama club, an editor of the paper and the yearbook - dreamed of a future in foreign service.
Bolton arrived at Yale University in 1966. By the time he graduated summa cum laude in 1970, the campus was roiled by demonstrations by anti-war activists and the newly formed Black Panther Party.
"The student body changed radically," recalled Mark Zanger, a member of Bolton's class and now a freelance writer in Boston. People such as Bolton "experienced coming to a conservative school and having it change into a much more liberal school. The whole direction of the campus changed. The Earth slid away from them."
After graduation, Bolton went to Yale Law School, where he was a classmate - but not a friend - of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham.
During one of his law school summers, he interned in the Nixon White House in the office of fellow Marylander, then-Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.
He later joined the well connected Washington law firm Covington & Burling, became general counsel for the U.S. Agency for International Development and then assistant administrator for programs there.
Bolton, who rises at 4 a.m. and is known to send e-mails to his staff at that hour, was appointed in 1985 an assistant attorney general in President Ronald Reagan's Department of Justice.
Move to State
Four years later, under President George H. W. Bush, he moved to the State Department to become assistant secretary for international organization affairs and helped draft Security Council resolutions condemning Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait.
During the news conference last week at which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced his nomination as U.N. ambassador, Bolton said one of the highlights of his professional career came in 1991, in the United States' successful effort to win repeal of the General Assembly's 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, removing what he called "the greatest stain on the U.N.'s reputation."
Over the years, Bolton has frequently spoken critically of the United Nations.
In an oft-cited remark, he said in 1994 that it would make no difference if the U.N. headquarters building in New York lost 10 stories.
He has asserted that the United States wasn't legally obligated to pay its dues to the world body.
In 2000, he told an interviewer that the Security Council needed just one permanent member - the United States - because "that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world."
As undersecretary for arms control and international security since 2001, Bolton has led nonproliferation efforts for both nuclear and conventional weapons, though to mixed reviews.
He favored the United States' withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and opposed American participation in the new International Criminal Court - actions the Bush administration carried out.
But he received unwelcome attention in 2003 for his stinging comments about North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Il, just as diplomats were ready to reconvene talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.
Bolton denounced Kim as a "tyrannical rogue leader" and called life in the country "a hellish nightmare."
The Bush administration was "not pleased," recalled Charles L. Pritchard, special envoy for negotiations with North Korea at the time, but the North Koreans' sharp response - denouncing Bolton as "human scum" - prompted the White House to back him.
"In the past, Mr. Bolton has demonstrated no particular adeptness with regard to diplomacy," said Pritchard. But as U.N. ambassador, "I'm sure he'll give it a try rather than simply walk around the halls of the United Nations creating enemies."
In introducing Bolton, Rice compared him to past U.N. ambassadors with the strongest voices, namely Jeanne Kirkpatrick, noted for her tough views when she held the post under Reagan.
"Let me say that controversial statements are not always inappropriate at the U.N.," Kirkpatrick said in a telephone interview last week. "You know, while not all of his views are stated in the most diplomatic ways, that's not always needed in diplomacy."
Burst of candor
Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington where Bolton has worked, said she expects Bolton to bring a refreshing burst of candor to the United Nations.
"There is a tendency for people to believe that foreign countries appreciate the tea-party approach to foreign relations, where you say nothing and smile nicely," she said. "John in his own personality; he does not work to rub people the wrong way but doesn't shroud truths in cloudy language.
"We don't want Miss Manners," she said.
Still an avid reader
Bolton's State Department office is decorated with a nod to how he is perceived.
Included are political cartoons that depict him as "more despot than diplomat," according to the McDonogh article.
Though he works the long hours typical of senior State Department officials, there are times when he is off the clock. He is often reading - his large library is filled with books on history and politics and biographies, including the one on Will Rogers currently on his nightstand.
He and his wife, Gretchen, a financial planner in Montgomery County, have traveled the world, including the honeymoon to China, Nepal and Tibet they took 10 months after their marriage.
On that trip, his wife was five months pregnant with their daughter, Jennifer Sarah, now a freshman at Yale.
His wife describes him as a "relatively soft-spoken, shy man who asserts himself where he thinks is necessary."
"I think his outspoken speeches, his forthrightness, is something people value because they know exactly where he stands," she said. "It doesn't mean everyone always agrees with him, but they know what he thinks."