Remembering Holbrooke

May 6th, 2011

The untimely death of U.S. Special Ambassador Richard Holbrooke '62 took me right back fifty years to my sophomore year at Brown and the Sayles Hall classroom of history professor William McLoughlin ("The Ambassador," March/April). It might have been spring semester 1961 when junior Dick Holbrooke and I both enrolled in a small history seminar titled The Anatomy of Revolution, one of the popular IC courses offered at the time. (IC stood for The Identification and Criticism of Ideas.)

Students sat in the round alongside their professors, and discussions were animated. Dick Holbrooke usually blew into class at the last possible moment, plunking down his pile of books and papers with a burst of energy. Professor McLoughlin would remark that now that Holbrooke had arrived we could begin. Holbrooke appeared rumpled and rangy—even disorganized—but he was also funny and bright, and I seem to remember he had a great fondness for large plaid shirts. Behind his thick glasses, his blue eyes projected a lively intelligence. After class, the rest of us scurried off to lunch, leaving Dick and Professor McLoughlin to continue their ongoing conversation about why revolutions happen and what were the warning signs.

Most of us were there to fulfill a history distribution requirement, but Dick Holbrooke already knew he wanted to work in government. Two years later, after graduating in 1962, he would launch his career in the Foreign Service, and he never looked back. His energy and dedication over fifty years were unflagging. I am saddened by his loss.

Dottie Mitchell Evans '63
Newtown, Conn.



As I started reading Norman Boucher's obit for Richard Holbrooke, I was surprised to realize that I'd met Holbrooke while he was editor of the Brown Daily Herald. I'd turned up at the BDH office sometime in the fall of 1961 to offer my services as a reporter.

My visual memory won't bring back Holbrooke's face, only his curly hair and his bodily attitude. He was sitting in a swivel chair, reclined to a near-perilous extent, one leg perched on the other. As he briefly and gruffly quizzed me on my qualifications, he exhibited a detachment that might have been taken for disdain. He did, however, give me a trial assignment: writing a short piece on the history of the BDH, which had just turned seventy. Though I was far from thrilled, I came up with something slightly more than 400 words on the subject. The piece was smartass from the outset. "All other considerations aside," I wrote, the BDH's "beginning is important to us because it enables us to write oodles of words about it and thus fill up otherwise empty pages in [its] giant-economy-size issues." Neither Holbrooke nor any of his co-laborers read it until it appeared in print. He was not at all amused, especially (for some reason) by my reference to a tradition of BDH editors not graduating. That first assignment accordingly proved to be my last.

Holbrooke was that rare thing: a diplomat who could be very blunt-spoken, the very quality I glimpsed in my one meeting with him. To my mind, Holbrooke's most outstanding feature was a moral earnestness characteristic of the best of his (and my) generation: the determination to make the world a better place than he'd found it. He was likewise a man of integrity. I find it ironic and appropriate that his name had appeared on some kind of Fox News blacklist alongside that of George Mitchell, the one other American I can think of who is closest to Holbrooke in his moral character.

Robert M. Philmus '64
Montreal, Canada



Sometime in the 1960s, I received a brief note addressed to all members of the Brown Club of Washington alerting us to an afternoon meeting with Ambassador Averell Harriman and his wife, Pamela, at their Georgetown home. The first twenty or so alumni to respond would receive invitations to this event. As one of the fortunate few, I was greeted at the door of the Harriman home by Mrs. Harriman, who motioned me into their living room. The ambassador sat on a large sofa facing the fireplace surrounded by very eager seated young guests. Mrs. Harriman circulated unobtrusively while waiters served drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

Richard Holbrooke, who may have been the president of the Brown Club of Washington at that time, was in charge and had obviously made all the arrangements. He explained that the ambassador would welcome any questions related to international affairs and to his experiences with foreign leaders. All were requested to speak slowly, clearly, and loudly, as the Ambassador was hard of hearing. Holbrooke would occasionally rephrase and sharpen a slightly unfocused question. After a few most informative and stimulating hours, and probably after some subliminal signal from Mrs. Harriman, Mr. Holbrooke thanked the ambassador and his wife and the attendees. It had been a splendid evening with a happy remembrance of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Daniel B. Krinsley '49 ScM
Washington, D.C.



After reading the stories in memory of Richard Holbrooke '62, I was overcome with pride knowing this outstanding diplomat had made important and significant contributions not just to the overarching world stage but to the University as well.

In addition to his position as a University Professor, Ambassador Holbrooke gave two Stephen A. Ogden Jr. '60 Memorial Lectures on International Affairs. Our family established this lectureship in honor of my brother Steve, who tragically passed away in 1963. My brother's passion was international affairs. Only two years apart at Brown, Richard and Steve were acquaintances and may have sat together in classes about the kind of discourse that was the focus of Ambassador Holbrooke's career and of what Steve had hoped to do with his life.

Steve would be honored to know Ambassador Holbrooke was part of the long list of diplomats speaking at Brown in his honor. While Holbrooke's Ogden lectures may be relatively minor in scope when compared to the outstanding work he accomplished throughout his life, I am both thankful and honored that his Brown lectures are a part of my brother's legacy.

Peg Ogden '53
New York City

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May/June 2011