Gun-Control Advocate Edward Welles, 85

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006

Edward O. Welles, 85, a former CIA officer who later become the first executive director of the antihandgun organization now known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, died Oct. 11 of brain cancer at his home in Washington.

After serving in World War II with the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA, Mr. Welles joined the spy agency in 1950. He served in Greece before becoming the agency's chief of station in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Morocco.

Mr. Welles survived an attempted overthrow of Morocco's King Hassan II in 1971, his family said. While attending a golf tournament at one of the monarch's seaside palaces, Mr. Welles escaped on foot and made his way to the U.S. Embassy, where he notified authorities of the coup attempt. He was awarded the CIA's Medal of Merit for his actions.

After retiring from the CIA in 1972, Mr. Welles had a varied career as a volunteer, lobbyist, entrepreneur and gun-control advocate. In 1974, he became the first executive director of the National Council to Control Handguns, which consisted of four people at the time.

"The best investment I ever made was placing an ad for $1.36, looking for someone with organizational abilities," said Mark Borinsky, who founded the group and hired Mr. Welles as its unpaid executive director.

Mr. Welles helped raise money and recruited members and executives for the organization, now the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He was known for his ability to talk with victims of gun violence and to draw them into the group's mission.

He left his directorship to make way for younger leaders but remained on the board of directors until 1991. By then, the gun-control lobbying group had hundreds of thousands of members and an annual budget of $17 million.

"He was a pioneer who helped grow the organization," said Sarah Brady, who took a leading role with the group after her husband, James S. Brady, was wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. "He was a permanent fixture. He was totally committed to preventing handgun violence."

Among his other pursuits, Mr. Welles lobbied Congress in the 1970s on behalf of movements promoting alternative fuels and wind energy, and he was active in the forestry organization Trees for the Future. He also helped raise money for a fledgling tour-boat company that offered sightseeing trips on the Potomac River.

Edward O'Malley Welles was born in Scranton, Pa., and interrupted his studies at Yale University to be an ambulance driver in North Africa during World War II. In 1943, he volunteered for a British intelligence service and gathered intelligence behind enemy lines in Greece.

The next year, he joined the OSS and was attached to the U.S. Army, receiving two battlefield promotions. He did intelligence work in Nazi-controlled parts of Yugoslavia and won the Bronze Star Medal for his exploits.

After the war, Mr. Welles graduated from Yale, then briefly operated a paint company in Texas before he was recruited to the CIA.

Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Frances Eells Welles of Washington; three children, Parmelee Tolkan and Edward O. Welles Jr., both of Lake Placid, N.Y., and Jonathan Welles of San Francisco; and three grandsons.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company