William C. Olson, dean and founder of Sigma Iota Rho

November 20, 2012

William C. Olson, 92, retired dean and professor emeritus of American University’s School of International Service and founder of the international collegiate honor society Sigma Iota Rho, died Oct. 26 at his home in Gaithersburg.

He had Alzheimer’s disease, said his son Jon Olson.

Dr. Olson was a professor and dean of the School for International Service from 1979 until his retirement in 1986. In 1984, he founded Sigma Iota Rho, an academic society of international studies that has more than 130 national chapters today.

From 1970 to 1979, he directed the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio study and conference center on Lake Como in Italy. Earlier in his career, he directed the Foreign Affairs Division of what is now the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress and was an associate dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

William Clinton Olson was a Denver native and a 1942 graduate of the University of Denver. He was an Army Air Forces veteran of World War II.

In 1963, he completed a dual master’s and doctorate program in international relations from Yale University.

Dr. Olson published and co-wrote scholarly works, including “The Theory and Practice of International Relations” (1966).

He was a trustee of the Social Science Foundation at the University of Denver and what is now known as World Learning, an organization that promotes international understanding by placing students with host families. His memberships included the Cosmos Club and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Survivors include his wife of 69 years, Mary Matthews “Betsy” Olson of Gaithersburg; three children, Jon Olson of Port Royal, Pa., Peter Olson of Brussels and Elizabeth “Annie” Olson of Oak Park, Ill.; and four grandchildren.

— Megan McDonough