Lawrence S. Eagleburger

Eulogy For Lawrence S. Eagleburger

Who of his associates can ever forget Larry at work: in shirt-sleeves, asthma inhaler in one hand, cigarette in the other, cough drops in front of him, a telephone squeezed between shoulder and ear and very loud opera music blaring from his recorder.

Larry was indispensable: as an associate and a friend, a designer and executor of policies and as our conscience. Larry lifted our spirits, ennobled our perspective and helped a succession of administrations to fulfill America’s aspirations.

The only Foreign Service Officer ever to reach the office of Secretary of State, Larry incarnated the values of continuity, wisdom, loyalty and experience of one of our country’s great institutions. At the same time, the Foreign Service cannot always overcome its suspicion that Secretaries of State are in sore need of guidance because they probably could not have passed the Foreign Service exam. So in the period we worked together, Larry, as Undersecretary of State for Management, had a dual job: to manage the Foreign Service for the Secretary and to manage the Secretary for the Foreign Service.

He carried out both tasks with irreverent aplomb tinged with affection. He would sum up his travails in epic tales of vicissitudes overcome by heroic fortitude, accounts which he was prepared to share with mankind at the slightest invitation and even without it.

A letter Larry wrote me shortly after I left office can serve as an example. It describes a scene in the Moscow State Guest House as the ceasefire ending the 1973 Middle East war was being negotiated:

“I recall sitting at a desk in a fairly large room in the villa, yelling over the phone at the communications people in the Embassy. (I was yelling because of the bad telephone connection, not because I thought it would help move the cables faster. Unlike certain Secretaries of State, I never believed that a loud voice had much impact on inanimate objects.) There were some twenty to thirty people in the room, all talking, with Joe Sisco taking the lead. I was more-or-less hidden from view.

…Unbeknownst to me, you walked in at that moment and obviously heard what I was saying. There was a bellow along the lines of: “What, the cables aren’t out yet!?!” I looked up, to find you standing in the middle of the room with smoke issuing from nose, eyes and ears, and no one else in sight. All twenty or thirty people had exited with a speed and facility that would have put Houdini to shame. The single exception was Winston Lord, who was sort of huddled in a corner, but – God bless him – prepared to hang around for the pyrotechnics and to clean up my blood when it was all over.”

Larry’s variations on that theme were inexhaustible as, for example, his tale of my reaction to a fax machine that had swallowed a just-re-edited version of my maiden speech to the U.N. at the precise moment I was leaving to deliver it. Or the occasion in Damascus when, after a night-long negotiation with Assad, I had barely gone to bed when the muezzin called the faithful to prayer from a loudspeaker seemingly placed right outside my window. Reacting to what I treated as one harassment too many, I knocked on Larry’s door, convinced that he was my solution to every problem, and insisted that he put an end to the noise. Larry, in underwear, knew the Foreign Service procedure for dealing with an overwrought Secretary. He picked up his ubiquitous pad and said: “And to whom, Mr. Secretary, would you like me to address that message?”

Not that Larry was infallible. In the mid-1970s, we were engaged in a secret negotiation led by Larry with Cuban officials. It had been agreed that when the Cubans had something to communicate, they should call Larry’s home and ask for “Mr. Henderson”. This stratagem would probably not have passed muster at Langley. At any rate, Larry had neglected to tell Marlene of it. When the occasion arose, Marlene told the caller repeatedly and with growing exasperation that he had reached the wrong number, until the Cuban gave up and finally asked for Larry and identified himself, blowing the operation.

I cannot part from our gallant friend without a personal word. Lucky are those who, in their journey through life, encounter someone of total reliability, absolute unselfishness and a devotion that, in its magnitude, can never be deserved.

Larry played such a role in my life. His friendship was a gift, not a claim. He occasionally honored me by describing me as his mentor; he was, in turn, one of the buttresses of my existence. When I called him the day before he left us, I tried to tell him how much he meant to me, but he wanted to talk about a letter he had sent me from his sickbed, in which he congratulated me about a recent book I had written. He wanted to make sure I understood that he had read every page of it.

It will be a lonelier world without him. But for those who shared Larry’s life and loved him, he will never leave us. We will recall his courage, his dedication, his patriotism, the dignity with which he bore his many afflictions. It will be our lasting honor to have been Larry’s contemporary.