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This Day in Georgia History

December 20, 1994

Dean Rusk Died

To view an image of Dean Rusk, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

Dean Rusk died in Athens at age 85 of congestive heart failure. He was born David Dean Rusk on Feb. 9, 1909 in Cherokee County, Georgia. He obtained an undergraduate degree from Davidson College (N.C.) in 1931, and then received a Rhodes Scholarship to attend St. John’s College at Oxford, where he was awarded a M.A. in philosophy, politics, and economics. Returning to the U.S., Rusk taught at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. from 1934 to 1940, when he joined the U.S. Army. During World War II, Rusk served as deputy chief of staff for Army operations in the China-Burma-India theater of war and rose to the rank of colonel. In 1946, Rusk joined the State Department, where he held the post of Assistant or Deputy Under Secretary of State from 1947 to 1952. He left the State Department in 1952 to serve as chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation. In late 1960, Rusk received a call from newly elected president John F. Kennedy asking him to serve as Secretary of State. Rusk was a key advisor to Kennedy during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the building of the Berline Wall, and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. After Kennedy’s assassination, Pres. Lyndon Johnson asked Rusk to continue as Secretary of State. Rusk believed strongly that it was in the U.S.’s vital interests to prevent the spread of communism. Particularly was this true in Southeast Asia, where communist North Vietnam was supporting the overthrow of the Saigon regime in South Vietnam. At first, U.S. assistance U.S. assistance took the form of military supplies, equipment, advisors, and economic resources, but soon U.S. air power and ground troops were also involved. Rusk’s policy of unyielding support for South Vietnam led to him to later admit that he had erred in underestimating both the resolve of North Vietnam to continue the war and the extent of opposition to the war in the U.S. In 1970, Rusk accepted a position at the University of Georgia as Samuel H. Sibley Professor of International Law at the University of Georgia (1970-1994). Here he taught international law and headed the Dean Rusk Center until his retirement in 1984.