An obituary in Thursday's editions of The Washington Post of Avis Bohlen, 68, who died Wednesday and who was the widow of ambassador Charles E. Bohlen, contained a quotation that was wrongly attributed to president John F. Kennedy. The quotation is a statement by Joseph Alsop, a retired columnist who was a close friend of the Bohlen family and of Kennedy.
Avis Bohlen 68, the widow of ambassador Charles E. Bohlen and a woman who met the difficult challenges of being a Foreign Service wife with unusual grace and sympathy, died yesterday at her home in Washington. She had cancer.
Mrs. Bohlen, who was born in Villanova, Pa., and educated at schools in Philadelphia, went to Moscow in 1934 to visit her brother, Charles Thayer, then a young Army officer serving on the staff of the American military attache at the U.S. Embassy.
There she met Bohlen, who was one of the few U.S. diplomats at that time who spoke Russian and who had made a long and systematic study of Russian history and Soviet affairs. Thus, he was part of the staff of William C. Bullitt, the first U.S. ambassador to serve in Moscow after President Franklin D. Roosevelt established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1933.
Miss Thayer and Bohlen fell in love and were married in 1935.
The essentially strange and hostile atmosphere of the Soviet Union was characteristic of much of their life abroad. They returned to Moscow for two more tours of duty, in the second of which Bohlen was the U.S. ambassador, and also served in the Philippines and in France. Bohlen was sent to Paris as ambassador by President John F. Kennedy at a time when Americans were not notable popular in that country. But wherever the Bohlens went, Mrs. Bohlen made her mark as the American "ambassadress."
After being assigned briefly to the State Department in the late 1930s, the Bohlens were ordered to Moscow again in 1938. They spent the next two years there.
During this time, Mrs. Bohlen returned to the United States to bear their first child. Meanwhile, her husband was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and was there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Mrs. Bohlen was still in the United States and the family remained apart until Bohlen was repatriated with other U.S. diplomats in the autumn of 1942.
The family spent the war in Washington, where Bohlen's rare, firsthand knowledge of Soviet affairs brought him into the inner councils of presidents Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.
After the war, Bohlen was appointed minister counselor in the American Embassy in Paris. Mrs. Bohlen accompained him.
When Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) was building his political career and bringing the country to the edge of hysteria in its suspicion and fear of all things communist, Bohlen came under attack from him for having been present at the Yalta Conference in 1945. This was the meeting that defined Soviet and western spheres of influence in Europe. Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio, the doyen of the Republican Party, forced McCarthy to desist. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Dwight D. Eisenhower then appointed Bohlen ambassador to Moscow.
Mrs. Bohlen learned to speak Russian well enough to translate for Russian guests during her husband's absences from their residence, a large and drafty structure in the old part of the city called Spasso House.
The Bohlens' next assignment abroad was Manila, where Bohlen was appointed ambassador in 1957.
Kennedy named him ambassador to France in 1962, a post he held until 1968. The young president paid this tribute to Mrs. Bohlen:
"She was ideal, first of all, because she was American through and through, but never shrill, or narrow, or self-congratulatory. Then she quite wonderfully combined gaiety with natural dignity, warm friendliness to everyone wishing to be a friend with thorough understanding that those representing the United States must never imitate spaniels.
"Finally, she led each embassy (she) served in, just as her husband led his political staff. She had none of the bossiness that sometimes afflicts our ambassadresses, but she made her own the concerns of all on the staff from the doorman to the minister and his wife. Men and women, high and low, all came to her with their worries, their uncertainties and puzzlements; and all went away better for seeking her out.
"Add that Paris was deeply hostil to Americans when the Bohlens were sent there, yet they neither complained nor sought popularity, and they came away at least as warmly liked and generally respected as an ambassadorial couple can hope to be."
Bohlen retired fromt he Foreign Service in 1969 as deputy undersecretary of State for political affairs. He and his wife settled in Washington. Mr. Bohlen died on New Year's Day, 1974. A year or two later, Mrs. Bohlen's health began to fail.
Mrs. Bohlen's survivors include three children, Charles E. Jr., of California, and Mrs. David Calleo and Mrs. Peter Birge, both of Washington, and one sister, Mrs. Howard Long, of Villanova.