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Emmett J. Rice, Federal Reserve governor and father of U.N. ambassador, dies at 91

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Emmett J. Rice, 91, a former World Bank official and member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and the father of Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, died March 10 at his home in Camas, Wash. He had congestive heart failure.

Dr. Rice was a pioneering economist, banking official and authority on the monetary systems of developing countries who, in the early 1960s, spent two years in Nigeria helping establish that country’s central banking system.

He was drawn to economics as a student in the 1930s because of what he saw around him during the Great Depression.

“There was a lot of suffering,” he recalled in a 1991 interview for an oral history project at the University of California at Berkeley. “Twenty-five percent of the country was unemployed. I wanted to understand an economy which allowed this to happen.”

Dr. Rice came to Washington in 1964 to work in the Johnson administration, eventually becoming acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Developing Nations. From 1966 to 1970, he was an executive director of the World Bank, representing U.S. interests and helping establish the global bank’s priorities.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter tapped Dr. Rice for the Federal Reserve Board, the seven-member body that sets U.S. monetary policy and regulates the banking system. He was the second black member of the board, after Andrew F. Brimmer, who was appointed in 1966.

Dr. Rice, who served under then-Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, helped steer the nation’s financial policy through a severe recession, the savings and loan crisis and a period of unprecedented banking deregulation in the 1980s.

He kept a low profile during his seven years on the board but, after growing up in the segregated South, was acutely aware of his role as its lone black member.

The notion of working at the Fed “never crossed my mind” during his youth, Dr. Rice told Ebony magazine in 1984. “That’s one of the great horrors of racial discrimination. It would have been totally unrealistic for me to prepare to go to the Federal Reserve.”

Susan Rice, in an interview Friday, credited her father with instilling in her “a strong sense of personal and social responsibility” that has guided her career.

“He believed mightily in the power of the individual to determine his or her own destiny,” she said.

Emmett John Rice was born Dec. 21, 1919, in Florence, S.C. His father, a Methodist minister, died when his son was 7.

Dr. Rice attended segregated schools before moving with his family to New York City in his teens. He graduated from the City College of New York in 1941 and received a master’s degree in business administration from there a year later.

During World War II, he was an officer in the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a black unit in the Army Air Forces, serving primarily in managerial and accounting roles in the United States.

In the late 1940s, while attending graduate school at Berkeley, Dr. Rice became the first black member of the Berkeley fire department. He spent a year in India on a Fulbright fellowship in the early 1950s and received his doctorate in economics in 1954.

After teaching at Cornell University from 1954 to 1960, Dr. Rice spent two years as an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York before going to Nigeria to help develop the country’s banking system.

He settled in the District in 1964 and, in the early 1970s, was executive director of the D.C. government’s economic development committee. He was a senior vice president of National Bank of Washington before joining the Federal Reserve Board.

After resigning from the Fed in December 1986, Dr. Rice served on corporate boards and consulted. He moved to the state of Washington in 1998.

His marriage to Lois Dickson Rice ended in divorce.

In addition to his daughter, of Washington, survivors include a son, E. John Rice Jr. of Bethesda; and four grandchildren.

“He believed segregation had constrained him from being all he could be,” Susan Rice said of her father. “The psychological hangover of that took him decades to overcome.

“His most fervent wish was that we not have that psychological baggage.”

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