Peter Rodman's Life of Service

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The generation that saw us through World War II and its aftermath is often called "the greatest generation." Without doubt, it performed signal feats of valor and creativity. Still, its members had the advantage of serving in causes that had little moral ambiguity and that were sustained by a sweeping national consensus.

Their children were less fortunate. They were educated by teachers who increasingly challenged hitherto accepted values amid a war that divided the nation like no event since the Civil War.

Those of that generation who aspired to public service ran the risk of being consumed by ideological controversies or tempted into being advocates of partisan positions.

Peter Rodman, who died Aug. 2, rose above the mood of his time. Aware of the doubts all around him, his lodestar remained service -- for the nation he loved, for values he considered universal and on behalf of causes that sustained and enlarged the scope of freedom in the world.

Peter was much too modest to have put his role into these words. He expressed his commitment through unostentatious yet indispensable service focused on solving whatever tasks it fell to him to carry out. He did this quietly and with good humor. He sought fulfillment, not glory; he served to do, not to be. While many of his contemporaries were observing themselves with rapt attention to discover what they might do next, Peter remained focused on objectives that defined his service and duty.

He helped to sustain the nation by this unobtrusive commitment. Public service was his vocation. For nearly four decades, five administrations benefited from Peter's understated wisdom and his good cheer as he worked in key positions at the White House, State Department and Defense Department.

Peter was my undergraduate tutee at Harvard in the mid 1960s. He became a surrogate son. My life will be emptier and less joyful without him. The nation has lost one of its sentinels, one who was all the more indispensable for never having made that claim for himself.

HENRY A. KISSINGER

New York

The writer was U.S. secretary of state from 1973 to 1977.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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