Fondly Remembered: 60th Secretary of State George P. Shultz (1920-2020)

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Excerpt Via FSJ/by Steven Alan Honley:
In December 1985, news broke that the Reagan administration was planning to require State Department employees to take lie detector tests to keep their security clearances. Expressing “grave reservations” about the validity of polygraphs, Secretary of State George P. Shultz threatened to resign if the policy change went forward, calling it a sign that “I am not trusted.” President Ronald Reagan took that threat so seriously that, after meeting with Secretary Shultz, he declared that he would leave it up to State Department officials to decide whether to administer polygraphs.
Although that incident did not change the status quo, and was soon forgotten by most people, it reveals much about George Shultz’s character. First, while he was a fully committed Cold Warrior, he instinctively understood that not every trade-off of liberty for security is warranted. Second, his background as an economist led him to value data over theory, so he saw no reason to trust polygraphs.
Third, he was intensely loyal to his employees, and they trusted him to have their backs. Although he couched his protest in personal terms (“I am not trusted”), everyone knew there was no chance he would ever be asked to take a lie detector test—let alone forced to do so to keep his job. But George Shultz understood full well that his subordinates at State did not enjoy that luxury, so he spoke out on their behalf—first through internal channels, then publicly.
For those reasons, and more, many Foreign Service members who served during Secretary Shultz’s tenure in Foggy Bottom (1982-1989) remember him fondly. (As far as I know, AFSA has never surveyed its members as to the Secretary of State they believe was the best leader of the department, but I’m willing to bet Shultz would come in at or very near the top of such a list.) A thoughtful institutionalist, he not only understood and valued the work of State and other foreign affairs agencies, but advocated for the resources and respect diplomats need and deserve.
Read in full here.

Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, Former Secretary of State George Schulz, and Former Secretary of Defense William Perry tour the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, on February 8, 2012. [Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by Jacqueline McBride via State Department/Flickr]

The Foreign Service Journal  has an online memorial. To contribute to this living memorial, please send your brief essay (up to 500 words) to
A few contributions below from the online memorial:

A Gentleman, Even at 3:00 a.m.
Shultz was SecState when I worked in the 24 x 7 Operations Center; he would often call in to see what was going on in the world. Occasionally, I would have to call him in the middle of the night to report on one crisis or another. Even when being awakened at three in the morning, he was a perfect gentleman, often repeating back a summary of what I had briefed him about, and then asking how everyone on the team was doing that night. It is no wonder that State employees thought Shultz was terrific.

Greg Delawie
Ambassador, retired
Alexandria, Virginia

A Beacon of Integrity and Truth (Excerpt)
On July 23, 1987, Secretary Shultz testified for six hours before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages affair. I left the office that day around lunch time and listened to Shultz’s testimony on the car radio as I drove. I stopped at the supermarket on the way home, but stayed in my car, riveted, as I listened. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) had just asked Shultz about reports that he had tendered his resignation on several occasions during his service as Secretary of State, including at one point during the Iran-Contra fiasco.

As the Secretary recounted his reasons for offering to resign at different times, he said something that has stayed with me ever since: “In jobs like the job I have, where it is a real privilege to serve … you can’t do the job well if you want it too much. You have to be willing to say, ‘goodbye’—and I am.” (See comments at approximately the 4:05 hour mark of testimony, found here:

I only recently looked up his exact words, but I have never forgotten what those words meant. They stayed with me and guided me throughout my Foreign Service career. And I have thought of them over the years as we have seen political leaders fail to make, or not make, politically difficult choices, and then as they have contorted themselves into logical absurdities to justify what is, at heart, simply an unwillingness to say “goodbye” to a position of privilege and power. George Shultz was a beacon of integrity and truth because he didn’t want his position “too much.”

Ed Smith
FSO, retired
Washington D.C.

The Only Secretary Who Understood What We Do

I spent most of my career as a Labor Officer. We had a conference in Washington while George Schultz was the Secretary of State. He came and spent an hour with us. He was the only Secretary of State who understood what we did and why it was important. The fact that he understood and cared made a real impact on us.

Dan E. Turnquist
FE MC, retired
Centennial, Wyoming

Read more in  Online Memorial to Secretary Shultz


A Lonely Memorial For Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz at HST

George Shultz was named as Secretary of State by President Ronald Reagan on June 25, 1982. He assumed the office of Secretary on July 16, and he remained in that position until January 20, 1989. Under Shultz’s leadership, U.S. diplomacy helped to pave the way for the ending of the Cold War. Read more here.
See the AP’s obituary:Longtime Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz dies at 100. NYT : George P. Shultz, Top Cabinet Official Under Nixon and Reagan, Dies at 100.
Schultz once had an instruction to an ambassador about a foreign minister, “Keep him out of my thinning hair.”
Phyllis Oakley, Deputy Spokesperson at State Department 1986-89 said about Schultz, “When people talk about management of the Department, particularly in the recent awful years, they refer to Shultz as the last great manager.”
Henry Allen Holmes, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, 1985-89 said, “he cared about his people, not just those who worked directly for him, but he was one of the few Secretaries of State — in fact, probably, in my lifetime, the only Secretary of State that I can remember — who cared deeply about the institution, about the Foreign Service, about the Civil Service in the institution, about the Foreign Service Institute. I mean his sense of leadership of the institution was broad, very broad.”
Read more here from ADST.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken pays his respects to former Secretary of State George P. Shultz at a memorial in the late Secretary’s honor in the lobby of the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 10, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

Statement from Secretary Blinken:

George Shultz was a legend.

As Secretary of State, he helped achieve the greatest geopolitical feat of the age: a peaceful end to the Cold War. He negotiated landmark arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and, after leaving office, continued to fight for a world free of nuclear weapons. He also urged serious action on the climate crisis at a time when too few leaders took that position. He was a visionary.

An ardent champion of diplomacy, Secretary Shultz strengthened America’s relationships and advanced our interests with strategic brilliance and great patience. The men and women of the foreign and civil services were devoted to him because he uplifted their work and relied on their judgment. When it came time to name the campus of the Foreign Service Institute, where America’s foreign service officers are trained, they named it for him.

Every Secretary of State who came after George Shultz has studied him – his work, his judgment, his intellect. I know I have. Few people came to the role with as much experience as he. He had also served as Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and he was a Marine in World War II. It’s as distinguished a record of public service as any in American history.

Perhaps most of all, George Shultz was a patriot. He took pains to remind his fellow diplomats that their first duty was always to the American people. Before he sent new U.S. ambassadors to their overseas posts, he would invite them to his office and direct them to a huge globe in the corner. “Point to your country,” he would say. The ambassador would spin the globe and point to the country where he or she was heading. Then the Secretary would gently place their finger on the United States. “That’s your country.” He never forgot it.

George Shultz was a towering figure in the history of the State Department. The work we do now is shaped by his legacy. Our thoughts today are with Secretary Shultz’s family and all those who loved him. He will be deeply missed.

We heard from an overseas reader about a cable ordering flags at half-staff for Representative Ronald Wright, but apparently not for  Secretary Schulz. So we asked the State Department about it as some overseas folks were looking for the half-staff order to mark the passing of the 60th Secretary of State.  After the briefest of honeymoon under new management, it looks like our emails are once more consigned into the black hole for emails; not  to be answered or acknowledged once again. So did we miss the order or there wasn’t one?