Former Secretary of State George Shultz, who served President Ronald Reagan during the crucial, closing years of the Cold War, died Saturday at the age of 100, the Hoover Institution said Sunday.
Although Shultz held multiple high-level positions in several administrations, he is best remembered for the six years he served as secretary of state under Reagan, whose 110th birthday would have been on Saturday.
In recalling his achievements in diplomacy with the then-Soviet Union, The New York Times summed it up this way:
“Moscow and Washington had not spoken for years; nuclear tensions escalated and hit a peak during his first months in office. The hard work of replacing fear and hatred with a measure of trust and confidence took place in more than 30 meetings with Mr. Shultz and the Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, between 1985 and 1988. The Soviets saw Mr. Shultz as their key interlocutor; in private, they called him the prime minister of the United States.”
The talks led to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that went into effect in 1988. The treaty led to the destruction of 2,692 missiles. (In 2019, then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the treaty, saying Russia had stopped complying with it.)
Shultz said in later years that he was among the few who believed that then-Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev was different from those who came before him.
“Many people in Washington said: ‘There is nothing different, these are just personalities. Nothing can be changed,’” Shultz said in an oral history of the Reagan administration, according to The Times.
“They were terribly wrong,” he said.
Although the fall of the Berlin Wall came after Reagan had left office, Shultz noted in his memoir that, “It is fair to say that the Cold War ended during the Reagan years.”
His official State Department biography noted that, “Through positive responses to the overtures of Gorbachev and his Foreign Minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, and through his own initiatives, Shultz helped to draft and sign landmark arms control treaties and other agreements that helped to diminish U.S.-Soviet antagonism.”
Many recalled his legacy.
The Reagan Foundation is so sad to hear of the passing of former Secretary of State George Shultz, a man President Reagan once said about: “America is blessed with a man of exceptional character and qualifications.” pic.twitter.com/6hYg8whPHN
— The Reagan Foundation and Institute (@RonaldReagan) February 7, 2021
Heartfelt condolences to the family of Secretary George Shultz. He was a true Marine by countenance, determination & strength. An American patriot always. His counsel to me was generous & wise — his love of freedom always evident. Well done sir, may the Lord be with you always. pic.twitter.com/nctLGY3wbA
— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) February 7, 2021
If you like the fact that the Cold War ended as early and quietly as it did, many thanks are due to the still-underestimated George Shultz.
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) February 7, 2021
George Shultz was thoughtful, analytical, and committed to working in a world of facts and complex truths. Recently, the climate crisis was something about which he cared deeply. To the end, he was dedicated to a better and more secure nation and a more peaceful world. RIP.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) February 7, 2021
“Our colleague was a great American statesman and a true patriot in every sense of the word. He will be remembered in history as a man who made the world a better place,” former Secretary of State and Director of the Hoover Institution Condoleezza Rice said in a statement, according to CNN.
“George will be remembered as one of the most influential secretaries of state in our history. He was President Ronald Reagan’s most trusted adviser as the Cold War was drawing to a close. His deft touch in reading and encouraging Reagan’s instincts, first to challenge the Soviet Union, and then to find common ground through diplomacy, served the president and the country well,” she wrote in a tribute to Shultz posted by The Washington Post.
“Now, we will have to carry on the work that he challenged us to do: to love freedom, to provide opportunity for all and to never lose a thirst for learning. We will miss him. Yet, we could not have asked for more than to have shared in his passionate embrace of life’s joys and challenges. George Shultz ran his race and finished strong until the very end. For that we should be grateful, because even as we mourn his passing, we are all so much better for having been a part of the consequential life that he lived.”
In addition to his service as secretary of state, Shultz served as secretary of the treasury, secretary of labor and director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon administration.
He was a senior at Princeton when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, according to The New York Times. Schultz joined the Marines shortly after graduation and saw combat in the Pacific.
After the war, he earned a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined the faculty there, The Times reported.
At his death, he was the oldest surviving former cabinet member of any presidential administration, according to Fox News.
In 1989, Shultz was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive.
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