Manning Holland Williams, 89, a former journalist who worked as a Foreign Service officer at U.S. embassies in Moscow and Berlin during the height of the Cold War, died at Hampshire Memorial Hospital in his home town of Romney, W.Va., on June 26. The cause of death was cardiac arrest.
Mr. Williams was a fifth-generation West Virginian with a keen interest in local history. His great-great-grandfather had settled near Romney in the late 1700s.
He was a 1931 graduate of Romney High School, where he played on the school's first basketball team. At Washington and Lee University, he was editor of the newspaper, the Ring Tum Fi, and received magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa honors when he graduated in 1934.
He worked his way across the Atlantic Ocean on a cattle boat in 1935 and studied for a year at Heidelberg University, where he witnessed the rise of Hitler's brownshirts.
Coming back to the United States in 1936, Mr. Williams began a career in journalism, working as a reporter for the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Cumberland (Md.) Evening Times. With his dream of becoming a small-town newspaper editor thwarted by World War II, he enlisted in the Navy and saw combat in the South Pacific as beach master for a landing ship tank. He reached the rank of lieutenant and was awarded the Bronze Star.
After the war, Mr. Williams and his wife studied Russian at the Navy Language School in Boulder, Colo. Mr. Williams entered the Foreign Service and was posted to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. In 1949, he was transferred to the Allied High Command in Berlin and was in Berlin during the Soviet blockade.
His son, Eugene Williams, recalled a story his parents told of driving into East Berlin with two friends -- one British, one French -- and smuggling out an East German resident by bamboozling a young Soviet border guard. They presented the guard with every official document they had, from three countries, and sat stone-faced for some minutes while the young man tried to make sense of the stack of papers. He finally gave up and waved the group through, refugee in tow.
Mr. Williams also worked in Munich for Radio Liberty, which began broadcasting anti-Communist programs into the Soviet Union a few days before Stalin's death in March 1953. Ostensibly a privately funded organization, Radio Liberty was, in fact, covertly financed by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Mr. Williams, who founded the journal Problems of Communism while working for Radio Liberty, was aware the organization was financed by the CIA. "He said he was somewhat disappointed that he was never invited to join the CIA," Eugene Williams recalled.
Mr. Williams returned with his family to Washington in 1957, where he worked for the National Security Council during the Eisenhower administration. In 1963, he transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he was chief speechwriter for NASA Administrator James Webb and later for his successors.
Mr. Williams retired from NASA in 1979 and moved back to Romney, where he was active with the Nature Conservancy and local historic preservation efforts. He restored the oldest house in Romney.
In addition to his son of Conway, Mass., survivors include his wife of 62 years, Mary Kathleen Zollman Williams of Walton, Ind.; a daughter, Annski Williams of Eugene, Ore.; a brother; and two granddaughters.