Lincoln Gordon, 96

Lincoln Gordon

By T. Rees Shapiro
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lincoln Gordon, 96, a pipe-smoking political economist who in the 1960s served as U.S. ambassador to Brazil and who had a tumultuous term as president of John Hopkins University, died of respiratory failure Dec. 19 at the Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Mitchellville. He lived in Washington before moving to Collington two years ago.

Dr. Gordon was a precocious scholar. He graduated from Harvard at 19 and published his first book at 22. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1936 and taught classes on government and international economics during the next 25 years. He wrote dozens of books on government, the economy and foreign policy in Europe and Latin America, and he took periodic leaves of absence to work in the federal government.

Dr. Gordon was an executive on the War Production Board during World War II and was a top administrator of Marshall Plan programs in postwar Europe. His diplomatic posting to Brazil from 1961 to 1966 coincided with a right-wing military coup that overthrew left-wing president João Goulart in 1964. Goulart fled the country, and the military regime ruled until 1985.

Over the years, news articles raised suspicion of U.S. involvement in efforts to destabilize the Goulart regime and support the coup. Dr. Gordon, who denied direct involvement, testified during a congressional hearing that the coup was "the single most decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth century."

President Lyndon Johnson praised Dr. Gordon's diplomatic service as "a rare combination of experience, idealism and practical judgment."

From 1967 to 1971, Dr. Gordon was president of John Hopkins University in Baltimore and helped introduce coeducation to the undergraduate program. But his tenure was marked by campus upheaval over U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which led to demonstrations. At one point, students occupied the university's executive offices.

Dr. Gordon resigned from the presidency, citing increasing criticism from faculty members over the school's financial difficulties.

Abraham Lincoln Gordon was born Sept. 10, 1913, in New York, where his father was a lawyer. His mother hosted youth forums on TV and radio stations.

He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1933 and received a doctorate from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar in 1936.

The next year, he married the former Allison Wright. She died in 1987. Survivors include four children, Sally Gordon of Los Angeles, Robert Gordon of New Haven, Conn., Hugh Gordon of Ardmore, Pa., and Amy Gordon of Gill, Mass.; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

In the early 1950s, he was a White House economic adviser to W. Averell Harriman, a businessman, politician and Democratic Party kingmaker. From 1966 to 1967, Dr. Gordon served as the assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs. In the 1970s, he was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

For most of the past 25 years, Dr. Gordon was an economist at the Brookings Institution. His last book, "Brazil's Second Chance," was published in 2001 through Brookings.

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