Olcott Deming; Diplomat, First Ambassador to Uganda

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007

Olcott Hawthorne Deming, 98, a career diplomat who became the first U.S. ambassador to Uganda in 1961 and who was the president of the Georgetown Citizens Association in the 1970s, died of septicemia March 20 at the Washington Home hospice.

Mr. Deming, who became a Foreign Service officer in 1948, was appointed ambassador to the newly independent nation of Uganda by President John F. Kennedy. He oversaw one of the largest Agency for International Development programs in sub-Saharan Africa as the country struggled to overcome economic and social problems that later resulted in nearly 20 years of political upheaval.

"He was a lot of people's best friend . . . a very good Foreign Service officer, very competent and someone everybody trusted," said Robert O. Blake, a longtime friend and colleague. "He and I and a couple people from the British Embassy had a hilarious nighttime climb of Mount Fujiyama once -- he was a good, rugged guy."

In retirement, Mr. Deming headed the Georgetown Citizens Association as that neighborhood fought against an adult bookstore, illegal basement rentals and overdevelopment of the waterfront.

Mr. Deming, a great-grandson of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, was born in Westchester, N.Y., and grew up in Redding, Conn. He graduated from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

He began working for the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1935 while also pursing graduate studies in education at the University of Tennessee. In 1938, he became a teacher at the Fairfield Country Day and Edgewood schools, both in Connecticut. He and his wife also were among the first leaders in the newly created Experiment in International Living, which took student groups overseas. They were in Germany with students in September 1939 when World War II began and returned to the United States on the last peacetime crossing of the French liner Ile de France.

Mr. Deming joined the State Department in 1942 and the Foreign Service in 1948. He spent three years as a public affairs officer in Bangkok and two years in Tokyo.

In 1957, Mr. Deming was made consul general in Okinawa while the Japanese prefecture was still under U.S. military rule. He persuaded the Army not to confiscate the land occupied by American bases, thereby preserving Okinawan land rights and giving Okinawan landowners a steady stream of rental income.

Returning to Washington in 1959, Mr. Deming became director of the Office of Eastern and South African Affairs in the newly formed Bureau of African Affairs before becoming an ambassador.

Upon his return from Uganda in 1965, Mr. Deming served as diplomat-in-residence at the University of North Carolina, and, finally, as the coordinator of the State Department's Interdepartmental Seminar on Foreign Policy, a post from which he retired in 1969.

Mr. Deming was director of the Foreign Student Service Council in Washington for five years. He also was a trustee of the Experiment in International Living.

He argued in the pages of the New York Times in 1976 for limiting the number of non-career ambassadors to 10 percent of the total.

"The shunting aside of experienced professionals in favor of political appointees as chiefs of missions frustrates the competitive career system and damages the quality of our diplomacy," he wrote. "In 1883, the spoils system was ended in the civil service. In 1976, it is high time to end it in the appointment of ambassadors."

Mr. Deming was president of the Georgetown Children's House, a trustee of Rollins College, a member of the Metropolitan Club and the Chevy Chase Club and a founding member of the City Tavern Club.

Mr. Deming enjoyed the natural world, as evidenced by his confidence in identifying mushrooms in the field. So sure was he of his knowledge that he would take a bite to see if a particular fungus produced a poisonous tingle. He also enjoyed sports, playing tennis into his late 80s and croquet into his mid-90s at his summer retreat in Nantucket.

His wife, Louise Macpherson Deming, died in 1976.

Survivors include his companion, Elizabeth "Betty" Hood Phillips of Washington; three children, Rust Macpherson Deming of Bethesda, John Hawthorne Deming of Washington and Rosamond Bennett Deming of Madrid; a sister; three granddaughters; and five great-grandchildren.

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