Philip Hall Coombs; Education Expert and Advocate

Friday, March 10, 2006

Philip Hall Coombs, 90, the first assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, died of dementia Feb. 15 at Chesterfield Nursing Home in Chester, Conn.

Mr. Coombs, who had been the Ford Foundation's program director of education, was appointed by President John F. Kennedy in February 1961. He resigned in April 1962, citing bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of funds.

In his year at the State Department, he was assigned to make education and cultural activities part of the government's diplomatic efforts. He made the department's auditorium available for children's symphony concerts and urged families hosting foreign exchange students to continue to make them welcome through their educational careers.

After leaving State, Mr. Coombs worked for UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning in Paris. In 1970, he became vice chairman and then chairman of the International Council of Economic Development, focusing on improving education in developing countries.

He was born in Holyoke, Mass., and graduated from Amherst College. He continued his studies at the University of Chicago and then began teaching labor economics at Williams College. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces with the Office of Strategic Services in Italy. After the war, he worked as an economist for the Office of Economic Stabilization and then joined the economics faculty at Amherst. In 1947, he became economic adviser to Chester Bowles (D), who was elected governor of Connecticut the next year.

In 1950, Mr. Coombs was named executive director of the Paley Commission, established to advise President Harry S. Truman on trends in consumption and depletion of U.S. natural resources during the next 25 years. He left for the Ford Foundation in 1952.

During his career, he wrote more than a dozen books and multiple professional articles. He was named to the Council on Foreign Relations in 1961 and was a member of the American Economic Association.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Helena Brooks Coombs of Chester; a son, Peter Coombs of Essex, Conn.; a daughter, Holly Weeks of Salem, Conn.; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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