G. McMurtrie Godley, 82, a career Foreign Service officer who had served as U.S. ambassador to the Congo, Laos and Lebanon, died Nov. 7 at a hospital in Oneonta, N.Y. He had emphysema and heart ailments.
Mr. Godley, a specialist in political and military affairs, retired from the Foreign Service in 1977 after a 36-year career. But his service in the war-ravaged Indochinese nation of Laos from 1967 to 1973 cost him an appointment as assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs.
In 1973, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rejected his nomination for that post. The committee chairman, Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), said Mr. Godley was too closely identified with what by then was widely considered to have been a failed U.S. policy to direct diplomatic efforts in Southeast Asia.
In 1974, President Nixon appointed Mr. Godley ambassador to Lebanon, where he served until retirement.
As U.S. ambassador in Laos, Mr. Godley was the on-site chief of what was intended as a clandestine U.S. war effort against Southeast Asian communist forces. In this role, he coordinated U.S. airstrikes and directed the activities of a mercenary army of Laotian tribesmen, under the sponsorship of the CIA.
He was known in this period for the amount of time he spent touring isolated outposts. One one occasion, he ordered his helicopter to land in a contested village and was nearly knocked from the sky by a barrage of communist gunfire. On the diplomatic front, he was said to have played a key role in brokering a settlement between the Pathet Lao and the pro-American Prince Souvanna Phouma.
As ambassador to the Congo from 1964 to 1966, Mr. Godley helped direct an air force of CIA-paid pilots and Belgian-paid mercenary forces in the suppression of a Chinese-backed coup against President Moise Tshombe. A United Press International report said colleagues in the Congo embassy recalled Mr. Godley sitting at his desk in the predawn hours one morning, clad in Levi's and a pajama top with a can of beer in his hand, telephoning the CIA chief to tell him a coup attempt was under way.
A blunt-talking, barrel-chested diplomat known to friends as "Mac," Mr. Godley was said to have invoked intense loyalty or strong dislikes in the diplomatic community. He was reported once to have seized a fellow diplomat by the lapels of his coat and berated him publicly at a diplomatic reception. His critics sometimes called him "Field Marshal," and likened him to a proconsul of the ancient Roman Empire, who divided his time between administering political affairs and commanding an army.
Mr. Godley said he saw his own role as being on the cutting edge of a U.S. policy formed several levels above his station. "If I end up being the fall guy, I couldn't care less," he was quoted as saying.
He was born in New York, graduated from Yale University in 1939 and joined the Foreign Service in 1941. His first post was Marseilles, France, where he was vice consul. A year later he was transferred to Bern, Switzerland, where he worked with Allen W. Dulles, who was then with the Office of Strategic Services and would later head the CIA. Mr. Godley's World War II work in Switzerland included matters relating to prisoners of war.
His later Foreign Service postings included Brussels, Cambodia and Paris, where as a NATO officer he helped plan the landing of U.S. troops in Lebanon during the 1958 Mideast crisis.
After having served as ambassador to Lebanon, Mr. Godley was diagnosed with throat cancer, and his voice box was removed. He retired to Morris, N.Y. He served there as chairman of the board of Hartwick College and was a founder of the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown.
In 1946, he married Livia Paravicini, a former sergeant in the Swiss army ambulance corps. They later divorced.
Survivors include his wife of 33 years, Elizabeth McCray Godley of Morris; their two sons, George, of London, and Nicholas, of Madagasgar; a brother; and a sister.