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Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this obituary for E. J. Applewhite misstated his first name. It is Edgar. This version has been corrected.

Eclectic Author Edgar Applewhite Dies

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2005; Page B06

Edgar Jarratt Applewhite, 85, a protege of the philosopher-inventor R. Buckminster Fuller, a retired Central Intelligence Agency officer and a writer, ruminator and cataloguer of broadly eclectic information, died Feb. 10 of multiple myeloma at his home in Georgetown. He had lived in Washington since 1947.

A self-professed "layman in a community of professionals," Mr. Applewhite told friends that his proudest achievements over the years, next to persuading his wife to marry him, were that he had never changed a tire or a diaper, had never boiled an egg and had never consulted a psychiatrist.


Edgar Applewhite had a career as a CIA officer before renewing his collaboration with R. Buckminster Fuller and writing books.


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In a note delivered to The Washington Post a few weeks before his death (headlined "Northwest Resident Succumbs"), he reported that he was not a member of the Metropolitan, Cosmos or Chevy Chase clubs.

He was a writer. An amateur in the literal sense of the world, he was a wry, erudite man who loved meandering into the wilderness of issues and ideas that intrigued him, collecting volumes of information and then synthesizing the information into a book.

His books include "Cosmic Fishing" (1977), a memoir of his collaboration with Fuller on the inventor's multi-volume magnum opus on synergetic geometry; "Washington Itself" (1981), an informal guide to the city that was his home for more than 50 years; and "Paradise Mislaid: Birth, Death and the Human Predicament of Being Biological" (1991).

In a 1991 profile in the Washington City Paper, Mr. Applewhite labeled himself a "taxophilist," a collector and classifier of thoughts, interests and obsessions that he kept in hundreds of neatly titled manila folders filed in several rooms of his Georgetown apartment.

His interests, he told The Post, "were urban, if not urbane"; he described himself as "a lover of the great indoors."

Mr. Applewhite was born in Newport News, Va. With his dentist father struggling to support the family during the Depression, he left home to live for a year with an older sister who had married the owner of a plantation in Tahiti. Living was cheaper in Tahiti.

Returning from the South Pacific, he enrolled at Yale University and received an undergraduate degree in philosophy in 1941. He skipped his graduation ceremony and joined the Navy, where he served aboard the USS Belleau Wood and worked at code-breaking.

He joined up with Fuller after his discharge in 1946. The eccentric inventor had just established a company called Dymaxion Dwelling Machines Inc., intending to build simple, mass-produced housing. Despite interest from the media and Wall Street, Fuller couldn't get financial backing for his "dwelling machines," so he began designing the geodesic dome.

Mr. Applewhite began a career in the CIA. He yearned to travel, and the only way he could afford his globe-trotting was to find someone who would pay him for it. He considered working for the State Department or for an oil company, but the CIA sounded more interesting.

After sifting intelligence for two decades, in Germany, Lebanon and elsewhere, he said he never regretted his decision to join the agency. Though one of his daughters recalled being disappointed that her father wasn't a gun-toting James Bond, he did supervise a clandestine tunnel project in Berlin in 1955 that tapped into Soviet military communications being transmitted along underground wires.

His career culminated as chief of the inspection staff and deputy inspector general. In his letter to The Post, he wrote that his "commitment to the organization became more tenuous as the Cold War thawed."

He served briefly as assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and retired in 1970. He was awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit.

His tenure with the CIA not only gave him a ticket to see the world, but also provided him a pension, which allowed him to indulge his writing bent. His first task was to help old friend Fuller communicate to a wider public his abstruse notions about the geometric makeup of the universe.

"I worked with Fuller because he was making these remarkable series of assertions, and people were doubting them," Mr. Applewhite explained in the City Paper profile. "He preferred to do like all great teachers, have his students sitting under a tree and he lectures them like yogis. And I wanted to get his whole theory between covers, so that it would be available for critiquing."

Fuller, quoted in "Cosmic Fishing," described the process this way: "Sonny Applewhite and I meet deliberately and premeditately, and thereafter find ourselves spontaneously, inadvertently hauling in word-netted shoals (schools of cosmic fish, i.e., epistemological pisces)."

The result of the nine-year collaboration was Fuller's "Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking" (1975) and "Synergetics 2" (1979).

Later, Mr. Applewhite wrote "Washington Itself," an anecdotal and irreverent tour of the city that holds up well 25 years after it was written. The paperback version is still in print.

Mr. Applewhite's final book, "Paradise Mislaid," is also a guidebook -- to nothing less than the meaning of life and death as perceived by biologists and other scientific explorers. Ever the amateur, albeit an impressively well-informed one, he spent five years as "a wandering minstrel among the learned journals of science foraging for an insight to the processes of our mortality."

His conclusion: "If immortality has some cosmic niche, it is not within the grasp of the individual nor is it within the province of the species; and even the evolutionary process itself is, as far as we know, finite."

Mr. Applewhite's wife, Joyce Zinsser Applewhite, died in 1996.

Survivors include four children, Jarratt Applewhite of Santa Fe, N.M., Ashton Applewhite of New York City, Maria Applewhite of Cleveland and Anthony Applewhite of Atherton, Calif.; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.


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