William D. Rogers

Eulogy for William D. Rogers

Bill Rogers was my colleague, my friend and, in many ways, my conscience. In the thirty-four years I was fortunate enough to walk with him, he became part of my life. Rarely did a day pass, and never a week, without a long conversation. I have never met anyone with greater integrity and more devoted to serving our country and its core values of freedom and human dignity. His motive force was a sense of duty, not the righteous self-promotion of so many in our contemporary culture. Jean Mornet once remarked on the difference between those who want to be and those who seek to serve. Bill’s impetus was to serve and as anonymously as possible.

In 1988, a Washington Post article described Bill as follows:

“If you wanted to cast a lanky gringo as a master puppeteer in Latin American affairs, Central Casting might send you someone who looks very much like William D. Rogers. For one thing, he went to Princeton and to Yale Law School. For another, he wears a beautiful gray, chalk stripe suit, straying confidently to pastel flowers in his choice of tie.”

Behind that uniform was an extraordinarily warm and gentle human being. He doted on his family. He adored Suki and was touchingly protective of her. He was a passionate sailor and a strong downhill skier. He enjoyed ice skating on the pond behind his house with his family before Christmas dinners. Riding was perhaps his greatest passion. He would probably have considered the manner of his passing, while on a hunt, the most appropriate way to part from us.

Bill came to my attention by way of some articles he had written on Latin American policy; his admiration for the measures of the administration in which I served was under firm restraint. Nevertheless, shortly after I was appointed Secretary of State in 1973, I offered Bill the position of Legal Advisor to the State Department.

Bill, of course, had been a champion of civil liberties in the McCarthy period and had been head of a task force on Latin America for Senator McGovern’s presidential campaign – neither of them qualifications high on the White House’s search list. But I thought Bill was needed to help heal our nation’s wounds. Bill refused to serve in a Nixon administration.

Shortly after Gerald Ford took the oath of office in 1974, I renewed my offer, this time for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, for which Bill was highly qualified, having chaired the Alliance for Progress under President Kennedy. This time he accepted, warning me that if covert operations of the kind he had read about occurred on his watch, he would resign and state his reasons publicly.

Within weeks, Bill gave me the first demonstration of his independence, in effect telling me that I did not know what I was talking about:

“You urged us to search for something more – something beyond a concrete United States response to Latin American proposals, something which would unite the hemisphere in a new and common purpose. We looked hard. But we could not find an action proposal of this sort which we could honestly say to you is ripe for presentation to the hemisphere and which the hemisphere is ready for the United States to propose.”

So Bill set about to remedy this deficiency. He organized two trips for me through Latin America in order to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to a humane and democratic evolution of the Western Hemisphere. He gave high priority to the Panama Canal negotiations – and helped bring them just short of completion by the end of 1975. The small gap left was to avoid having to place it before the Senate in a presidential election year. President Carter took the last steps, and Bill – and I – were two of the most active supporters of the treaty during the Democratic administration.

Shortly after Bill joined the State Department, I entrusted him with one of the most sensitive enterprises of the period: direct American negotiations with Castro’s Cuba in an effort to normalize relations. He undertook three meetings in New York, enjoying the mechanics of secrecy enormously. As he reported:

“The hotel…spread before the four diplomats a luncheon which should have stirred some reservations among the Cuban team about the material advantages of Communism. But they proved to be beyond temptation.”

The effort ended when Castro sent an expeditionary force to Angola.

By that time, Bill had become one of my most trusted advisors and had been promoted to Undersecretary of State. In 1976, I gave him another difficult assignment: as point man in a negotiation to establish majority rule in then Rhodesia, which is today’s Zimbabwe, partly as a result of Bill’s effort. This was an especially complicated task because Rhodesia, though having declared itself independent, was technically a British colony. As a result, Bill had to help bring together the United Kingdom, the African states, especially Zambia and Tanzania, and South Africa on a program to persuade Ian Smith to accept majority rule. Bill was my right-hand man in that effort, and we succeeded.

I will always remember not only Bill’s achievements but the calm and subtle mastery with which he brought them about. His manner was understated, somewhat distracted, as if he needed help in finding his way through the complexities of his tasks. Like the brilliant lawyer he was, he was clearly on top of his brief. But his humility and personal modesty translated his extraordinary intellect and drafting skill into inspiration for his staff when it could so easily have proved intimidating.

After we both left government, Bill continued to work with me as Vice Chairman of my consulting firm in his characteristic style. He kept his office at Arnold & Porter and came to my office only when there was some problem to solve – but then unfailingly. My staff adored him because they used to consult him as an interpreter of my cryptic instructions without either side telling me of this role.

Bill continued his public service. He helped President Carter to get the Panama treaties ratified. He led a special mission for President Carter to El Salvador to investigate the case of the murdered nuns in 1982; he was Counselor to the Bipartisan Commission on Central America under President Reagan; he chaired task forces at the Council on Foreign Relations on such topics as our relationship with Cuba. He represented the elected government of Panama that had been forced into exile by General Noriega and quietly laid the intellectual and legal foundations for the restoration of democracy in Panama. As a founding member of the Orange County Land Trust and of the Piedmont Environmental Council, he advocated land preservation and fought the effort to establish a Disney theme park in the Virginia countryside. More recently, he represented Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer in his appearance before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform with respect to his service as the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Bill was extremely unhappy as the national debate deteriorated into an imprecation of personal motives. He respected those who served their country and demanded that they be judged by the principles of truth and fairness.

In 2005, Bill wrote in the Wisconsin International Law Journal:

“Restraint must first emerge as a policy, and out of the policy process. It must be embraced as national practice before it can be said to be law. And, if this nation is to renew its reputation as respecter of the rules of law, it will occur through the dogged efforts of the foreign policymakers who, though they may not quite realize it, are acting in the finest traditions of the legal profession.”

By then, Bill had become an indispensable and totally trusted friend. He was an executor of my will and my designated literary executor. He helped edit most of the hundreds of articles, the three volumes of my memoirs and four other books I wrote in that period. He handled much of my private legal work and all my relations with the U.S. government. He collected all my lifetime’s private papers, over a million of them, and supervised indexing them for donation to a library. He never accepted any payment for any of these personal services and refused to discuss that subject. He never asked for anything in return – a speech, a contribution – I assume because he did not want to diminish his notion of service by an implication of reciprocity.

I saw Bill for the last time less than forty-eight hours before he died. We had lunch together to discuss how to relate our activities to the realities of actuarial tables. As we parted, I said to Bill, “Only one thing remains to be arranged. You must promise to outlive me.”

It is the only promise Bill did not get to keep. But as we mourn him, all of us here need to remind ourselves that a kind God brought us into proximity to a genuinely noble man who devoted his life to bringing about a world where the weak can be secure and the just can be free.