Lincoln Gordon, diplomat, Harvard professor; at 96

By Robert D. McFadden
New York Times / December 22, 2009

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NEW YORK - Lincoln Gordon, a diplomat, educator, and political economist who was the American ambassador to Brazil in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the president of Johns Hopkins University in the late 1960s, died Saturday at an assisted-living home near Washington. He was 96.

Mr. Gordon died at Collington Episcopal Life Care in Mitchellville, Md., where he had lived for the past two years, his son Robert said. He had been a Washington resident for many years and was still an active associate of the Brookings Institution there.

A scholarly, pipe-smoking economist who earned a doctorate at Oxford and was a Harvard professor for many years, Mr. Gordon was posted to Paris and London as an administrator of the Marshall Plan for European recovery after World War II. He served as the US envoy to Brazil from 1961 to 1966 and was the president of Johns Hopkins from 1967 to 1971.

He was the author of books on government, the economy, energy and national security, foreign policy in Europe and Latin America, and Brazil’s emergence from military dictatorships to partnership with the nations of North and South America. He also wrote many articles on North Atlantic Treaty Organization strategies, the integration of Europe, and the Alliance for Progress in Latin America.

In a career split between academic appointments and government service, Mr. Gordon, a Democrat, served on the War Production Board during World War II, was a consultant to the UN Atomic Energy Commission, a White House economics adviser, and the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.

He returned to Harvard twice after graduating with high honors in 1933. Mr. Gordon taught at Harvard Business School from 1946 to 1950, and was professor of international economic relations from 1955 to 1961.

Abraham Lincoln Gordon, who didn’t use his first name, was born on Sept. 10, 1913, in New York to Bernard and Dorothy Lerner Gordon. His father was a lawyer and his mother moderated youth forums broadcast by NBC and for The New York Times on WQXR. He attended the Ethical Culture Schools and earned his doctorate as a Rhodes scholar in 1936.

In 1937, he married the former Allison Wright. She died in 1987. Besides his son Robert, of New Haven, he leaves two daughters, Sally Gordon of Los Angeles and Amy Gordon of Gill, Mass.; another son, Hugh, of Ardmore, Pa.; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

After the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960, Mr. Gordon served on a task force that developed the Alliance for Progress, the program that provided aid intended to dissuade Latin America from revolution and socialism. Mr. Gordon took up the ambassadorship in Brazil in 1961 at a time of high inflation and just as a left-wing president, Joao Goulart, took office.

Goulart was deposed in a right-wing military coup in 1964. Accusations that Mr. Gordon, his staff, and the Central Intelligence Agency had been involved in the coup were repeatedly denied.

But in 1976, nearly a decade after stepping down as ambassador, Mr. Gordon acknowledged that the Johnson administration had been prepared to intervene militarily to prevent a leftist takeover of the government.

After returning from Brazil, Mr. Gordon, in addition to his State Department role, coordinated aid to Latin America through the Alliance for Progress. When he stepped down to accept the Johns Hopkins presidency, President Lyndon B. Johnson praised his service as “a rare combination of experience and scholarship, idealism, and practical judgment.’’

Mr. Gordon’s four years at Johns Hopkins were dogged by deteriorating finances, faculty complaints over pay and academic priorities, and students rebellious over the “relevance’’ of their educations. He resigned in 1971.

From 1972 to 1975, Mr. Gordon was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution.

Later in the 1970s, he was associated with Resources for the Future, a research and policy organization in Washington, and since 1984 had been an economist with Brookings, which studies domestic and foreign policy issues.

His books include “A New Deal for Latin America’’ (1963), “Growth Policies and the International Order’’ (1979), “Energy Strategies for Developing Nations’’ (1981), “Eroding Empire: Western Relations with Eastern Europe’’ (1987), and “Brazil’s Second Chance’’ (2001).