McGeorge Bundy Dies at 77
Former FAS Dean was adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson
By Ken Gewertz
McGeorge Bundy, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and a key architect of U.S. foreign policy under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, died Sept. 16 at Massachusetts General Hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was 77.
Bundy was appointed Dean of FAS in 1953 at the age of 34, a surprise choice by Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey. He was the youngest person in Harvard's history ever to hold that position.
"He was a towering figure at Harvard," said John Kenneth Galbraith, the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus, who served with Bundy as both a Harvard faculty member and as one of President Kennedy's advisers.
"He never took second place anywhere, whether at Harvard or at the White House," said Galbraith. "He had an intelligence and instinct that always made him a senior figure. As a colleague, he was one of the professors whom all of us most admired. He had an intelligent opinion on a wide range of subjects. Later, working for John F. Kennedy, there were very few political positions I took without talking them over with Mac."
Stanley Hoffmann, the C. Douglas Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France, remembered Bundy as a colleague in the Government Department as well as a gifted administrator.
"He was a brilliant dean and a brilliant lecturer. He had a forceful, penetrating, and also a very playful mind. As dean, he had extraordinary authority over the faculty because of his verbal wit, elegance, and forcefulness. He was also a very imaginative and innovative administrator, and appointed a number of people to the faculty who would probably not have been appointed otherwise. I was particularly shaken by his death because I had been a teaching assistant twice in his class on American foreign policy and he was instrumental in getting me to come back to Harvard in 1955."
Born in Boston, Bundy was related to prominent figures on both sides of his family. His father, Harvey Hollister Bundy was a lawyer who served as secretary to Oliver Wendell Holmes, assistant secretary of state from 1931 to 1933, and as special assistant to the secretary of war from 1941 to 1945. His mother, Katherine Lawrence Putnam Bundy, was the daughter of Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell.
After attending the Groton School, Bundy studied mathematics at Yale, earning a B.A. with highest honors in 1940. In 1941, he became a junior fellow of Harvard's Society of Fellows, turning his attention to the study of foreign relations.
In 1942 Bundy left Harvard and served briefly in the Office of Facts and Figures under Archibald MacLeish. He then joined the army, memorizing the eye chart to hide his nearsightedness. He rose from private to captain, serving on the staff that planned the invasions of Sicily and France.
In 1946, he returned to the Society of Fellows, collaborating with Henry L. Stimson, secretary of war under President Franklin Roosevelt, on Stimson's autobiography, On Active Service in Peace and War (1948).
Bundy served as a research analyst on the Council on Foreign Relations in 1949 and was a visiting lecturer at Harvard from 1949 to 1951. He became an associate professor of government in 1951 and a full professor in 1954.
Bundy was a member of the Blackmer Committee, a group of faculty members from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Andover, Exeter, and Lawrenceville, which published a report in 1952. The Committee examined the transition from high school to college, focusing on eliminating duplication of studies in general education.
Later, as dean, Bundy introduced measures which allowed for the advancement of qualified incoming students to sophomore standing in required subjects.
A Republican who supported Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, Bundy was known for frequent debates with liberal faculty members. Even those who disagreed with him politically were impressed with his brilliant intellect, competence, and originality of thought.
In 1961, he left Harvard to become special assistant to the president for national security affairs, one of the group of men appointed by John F. Kennedy to whom the writer David Halberstam gave the name "The Best and the Brightest."
Bundy served until 1966, making the transition into the Johnson administration. He was an influential voice in the formation of U.S. policy in Vietnam, advocating a strategy of "sustained reprisals" in answer to the guerrilla activity of the Viet Cong.
After leaving his federal post, Bundy became president of the Ford Foundation, serving until 1979. From 1979 to 1989 he was a professor of history at New York University. From 1990 to 1993 he was chair of the Carnegie Corporation Committee on Reducing the Nuclear Danger, and from 1993 until his death, he was scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Corp.
In addition to the Stimson autobiography, Bundy's books include: The Strength of Government (1968) and Danger and Survival (1988). Stanley Hoffmann calls the latter book "a very great contribution to our understanding of American nuclear policy since 1945." Bundy also served as editor of Pattern of Responsibility (1952) a collection of writings by Dean Acheson.
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College