C. Burke Elbrick, 75, a career ambassador, the highest rank in the Foreign Service, and an authority on European and Latin American affairs, died of pneumonia April 13 at Georgetown University Hospital.
If diplomacy usually is the peaceful representation of the interests of one's country, Mr. Elbrick's career nonetheless contained moments of great peril. In 1969, shortly after he became ambassador to Brazil, he was kidnaped by terrorists, receiving a gash on the head from a pistol barrel in the process. He was released 78 hours later when the Brazilian government met demands that 15 leftist terrorists be released in exchange for his safe return.
"They seemed to ascribe all the trouble in Brazil to what they called North American imperialism," Mr. Elbrick said later. "I told them this reflected a colonial mentality on their part, but they didn't agree.
"They definitely were not gangster types. They were intelligent--young, intelligent, determined fanatics--the sort you wouldn't argue with too vehemently."
Thirty years earlier, when he was a young third secretary attached to the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, Mr. Elbrick accompanied the Polish government as it fled from the advancing Germans and Soviets in the early weeks of World War II. On one occasion he jumped into a ditch when German planes strafed the column he was traveling with. He ended up with the Polish government-in-exile at Angers, France. When the German blitzkrieg smashed into France in the spring of 1940, he had to flee again, this time to Spain.
Between these incidents, Mr. Elbrick served in Portugal, Tangier, Cuba, Britain, France and Yugoslavia. He was ambassador to Portugal from 1958 to 1964 and to Yugoslavia from 1964 until his appointment to Brazil.
He spent most of World War II as an embassy official in Portugal (where he added Portuguese to his other foreign languages, which were German, French and Spanish) and as consul in Tangier. He reopened the embassy in Warsaw at the end of the war and then went to the State Department as assistant chief of the Division of East European Affairs. He was deputy assistant secretary of State for European affairs from 1953 to 1957 and assistant secretary for European affairs from 1957 to 1958.
From 1949 to 1951, he was counselor of the embassy in Cuba. In 1951 and 1952, he served respectively as counselor of the embassies in London and Paris and as a delegate to the North Atlantic Council.
In 1969, Mr. Elbrick received the personal rank of career ambassador in the Foreign Service. He retired in 1971.
After his retirement, he became president of Diplomatic and Consular Officers Retired (DACOR). In 1982, he received its Foreign Service Cup, which is given to members who have served the country "both on active duty and in retirement with unusual distinction."
Charles Burke Elbrick was born in Louisville, Ky., on March 25, 1908. He graduated from Williams College in 1929 and was commissioned in the Foreign Service in 1931. His first posts were as a consular official in Panama and Southampton, England, and as a third secretary in the embassy at Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He was transferred to Warsaw in 1937.
He was tall, meticulously dressed and soft-spoken. Colleagues said he looked like a diplomat, but one of them, the late ambassador James W. Riddleberger, was quick to add, "Burke has plenty of guts. He is a very sturdy fellow."
Mr. Elbrick, who lived in Washington, received an honorary doctorate from Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and the parish of St. Matthew's Cathedral. He also was a member of the Chevy Chase and Metropolitan clubs.
Survivors include his wife, Elvira, of Washington; two children, Alfred Johnson Elbrick of Baltimore, and Valerie Burke Hanlon of Bethesda; a sister, Lillian Elbrick, and a brother, Charles, both of LaGrange, Ky., and six grandchildren.