Ambassador Robert White (1926-2015)

March 16, 2015

Robert White

Amb. Mark Bellamy reflects on the passing of the Inaugural Warburg Professor of International Relations, 1983-85.

How I missed the initial announcement, I don’t know. Weeks later, reading the Foreign Service Journal, I came across his obituary: Robert White, of Massachusetts, former U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador, deceased January 14 at age 88 in Arlington, Virginia.

Though I never met him, Robert White was something of a legend in the Foreign Service. Sent by President Carter to El Salvador in 1980 with instructions to mediate between a friendly but repressive regime and a guerrilla movement seeing to overthrow it, Ambassador White soon uncovered ugly truths. He found that government forces supported by the U.S. were committing gross human rights abuses. White was outspoken and insistent that this had to change. What changed instead, however, was his career path. Two weeks after President Reagan was inaugurated in 1981, he accepted Ambassador White’s resignation. Governmental abuses in El Salvador continued and worsened thereafter. 

White’s long foreign service career was essentially over. But he played many roles in retirement, most of them involving advocacy for a stronger moral positioning of U.S. foreign policy. In 1983 Ambassador White was selected as the inaugural Warburg Professor of International Relations at Simmons College. I am sure he gave his students and the Simmons community plenty to think about.
Speaking truth to power in something we talk about a lot. Actually doing it is another matter. Few public servants are as brave as Robert White, and we are fortunate that for a time he called Simmons College home.

-- Ambassador William M. Bellamy (ret.)
Current Warburg Professor of International Relations