Lawrence Eagleburger

Diplomat’s Skill Changed the World

One day while Lawrence Eagleburger BS1952, MS1957 was working on a master’s degree in political science, he spied a poster on a campus bulletin board promoting the Foreign Service Examination.

“I took it, passed it, took the oral exam, and passed that,” said Eagleburger. “Up until then, I had never even thought of the Foreign Service.”

That exam started a widely respected diplomatic career that spanned more than 40 years, culminating with a 42-day stint as secretary of state at the end of President George H.W. Bush’s term, making him the first Foreign Service officer to hold that post.

A quick-witted chain-smoker, the Milwaukee native rose to become the top aide to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger under the Nixon and Ford administrations. He was known for his skill in managing international crises in Europe and the Balkans, where his seven years of work earned him the nickname “Lawrence of Macedonia.”

Eagleburger was so valued by Kissinger that he was sent to carry out secret diplomacy with the Cubans to test whether relations could be reestablished.

He was dispatched also to other hot spots: to China after the Tiananmen Square uprising and to Panama after the 1989 U.S. invasion.

He was also admired for his wit. At one confirmation hearing Eagleburger was asked whether, in public or private, he had ever pinched a woman’s behind. “Can I divide that into two questions?” he asked.

He also had three sons, all named Lawrence. “It was ego,” Eagleburger said. “And secondly, I wanted to screw up the Social Security system.”

Though Eagleburger was a Republican, his diplomatic skill earned him an appointment by Democratic president Jimmy Carter as ambassador to Yugoslavia. And President Ronald Reagan appointed him as assistant secretary for European affairs under Alexander Haig Jr., and he rose to under-secretary for political affairs.

After Eagleburger’s death in 2011, President George H.W. Bush recalled that Eagleburger’s performance was “heroic” in the 1991 Gulf War. “During one of the tensest moments of the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein began attacking Israel with Scud missiles … we sent Larry to preserve our coalition.”