Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State

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David Dean Rusk

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert Hugh Rusk and Frances Elizabeth Rusk
Husband of Virginia Rusk
Father of <private> Rusk

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State

David Dean Rusk (February 9, 1909 – December 20, 1994) was the United States Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Rusk is the second-longest serving U.S. Secretary of State of all time, behind only Cordell Hull.

Childhood and education

Dean Rusk was born in a rural district of Cherokee County, Georgia, the son of Robert Hugh and Frances Elizabeth (Clotfelter) Rusk. He was educated in Atlanta's public schools, graduated from Boys High School in 1925, and spent two years working for an Atlanta lawyer before working his way through Davidson College. Rusk was coached in football by William "Monk" Younger and was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order Sigma chapter, becoming a Cadet Lieutenant Colonel commanding the Reserve Officers' Training Corps battalion. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1931. While studying in England as a Rhodes Scholar at St. John's College, Oxford, he received the Cecil Peace Prize in 1933.

Rusk taught at Mills College in Oakland, California from 1934 to 1949 and earned a law degree at the University of California, Berkeley in 1940. He married Virginia Foisie (October 5, 1915 – February 24, 1996) on June 9, 1937 and they had three children.

Career prior to 1961

During World War II he joined the infantry as a reserve captain, and served as a staff officer in the China Burma India Theater. At war's end he was a colonel, decorated with the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster.

He returned to America to work briefly for the War Department in Washington. He joined the Department of State in February 1945, and worked for the office of United Nations Affairs. In the same year, he suggested splitting Korea into spheres of U.S. and of Soviet influence at the 38th parallel north. He was made Deputy Under Secretary of State in 1949. He was made Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs in 1950 and played an influential part in the US decision to become involved in the Korean War, and also in Japan's postwar compensation for victorious countries, such as the Rusk documents. However he was a cautious diplomat and always sought international support.

Rusk was a Rockefeller Foundation trustee from 1950 to 1961. In 1952 he succeeded Chester L. Barnard as president of the Foundation.

Secretary of State

On December 12, 1960, Democratic President-elect John F. Kennedy appointed Rusk Secretary of State. According to historian and former Special Assistant to President Kennedy Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Rusk was not Kennedy's first choice, but rather the "lowest common denominator", as Kennedy's first choice, J. William Fulbright, proved too controversial. Rusk was sworn in in January, 1961.

As Secretary of State he believed in the use of military action to combat Communism. Despite private misgivings about the Bay of Pigs invasion, he remained noncommittal during the Executive Council meetings leading up to the attack and never opposed it outright. During the Cuban missile crisis he supported diplomatic efforts. Early in his tenure, he had strong doubts about US intervention in Vietnam, but later his vigorous public defense of US actions in the Vietnam War made him a frequent target of anti-war protests. Outside of his work against communism, he continued his Rockefeller Foundation ideas of aid to developing nations and also supported low tariffs to encourage world trade. Rusk also drew the ire of supporters of Israel after he let it be known that he believed the USS Liberty incident was a deliberate attack on the ship, rather than an accident.


As he recalled in his autobiography, As I Saw It, Rusk did not have a good relationship with President Kennedy. The president was often irritated by Rusk's reticence in advisory sessions and felt that the State Department was "like a bowl of jelly" and that it "never comes up with any new ideas." Special Consul to the President Ted Sorensen believed that Kennedy, being well versed and practiced in foreign affairs, acted as his own Secretary of State. Sorensen also noted that the president often expressed impatience with Rusk and felt him under prepared for emergency meetings and crises. Rusk repeatedly offered his resignation, but it was never accepted. Rumors of Rusk's dismissal leading up to the 1964 election abounded prior to President Kennedy's trip to Dallas in 1963. Shortly after Kennedy was assassinated, Rusk offered his resignation to the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson. However, Johnson refused Rusk's resignation and retained him as the Secretary of State throughout his administration.

Rusk also planned to offer his resignation in the summer of 1967 because "his daughter planned to marry a black classmate at Stanford University, and he could not impose such a political burden on the president." He decided not to resign after talking first to Robert S. McNamara and Lyndon Johnson.

When Johnson died in 1973, Rusk eulogized the former President when he lay in state.

After President of France Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from the common NATO military command in February 1966 and ordered all American military forces to leave France, President Johnson asked Rusk to seek further clarification from President de Gaulle by asking whether the bodies of buried American soldiers must leave France as well. Rusk recorded in his autobiography that de Gaulle did not respond when asked, "Does your order include the bodies of American soldiers in France's cemeteries?"

Rusk again offered to resign in 1967, after it became known that his daughter, Peggy, planned to marry Guy Smith, "a black Georgetown grad working at NASA. (Johnson didn't accept it.)" In fact, the Richmond News Leader stated that it found the wedding offensive, further saying that "anything which diminishes [Rusk's] personal acceptability is an affair of state". A year after his daughter's wedding, Rusk was invited to join the faculty of the University of Georgia Law School, only to have his appointment denounced by Roy Harris, an ally of Governor George Wallace and a member of the university's board of regents, who stated that his opposition was because of Peggy Rusk's interracial marriage. The university nonetheless appointed Rusk to the position.


Rusk received both the Sylvanus Thayer Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.

Following his retirement, he taught international law at the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens, Georgia (1970–1984). He died in Athens on December 20, 1994. He and his wife are buried at Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia. His granddaughter Monica Maghini lives in Vermont with her son Daniel and daughter Dylan.

Rusk Eating House, the first women’s eating house at Davidson College, was founded in 1977 and is named in his honor. The Dean Rusk International Studies Program at Davidson College is also named in his honor.

Dean Rusk Middle School, located in Canton, Georgia, was named in his honor, as was Dean Rusk Hall on the campus of the University of Georgia.

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