Edith Eliza Van Hollen, 79, who was recognized as one of the top U.S. government foreign policy and intelligence analysts on Afghanistan and South Asia, died of cancer Feb. 21 at George Washington University Hospital.
Mrs. Van Hollen, a resident of Washington and a native of New York City, also was the wife of a former U.S. ambassador and the mother of a U.S. congressman.
After graduating from Vassar College in 1949 with a major in Russian, Edith Eliza Farnsworth worked at the Central Intelligence Agency. She left to earn a master's degree through Harvard University's Russian studies program. She received it in 1953 and married Christopher Van Hollen of Baltimore, a Foreign Service officer.
For 25 years, she served with her husband in countries around the world, including India, Pakistan, Turkey and Sri Lanka, where he was U.S. ambassador. At every post, she immersed herself in local history and culture and engaged in volunteer efforts. An accomplished linguist, she learned to speak French, Russian, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Turkish and Sinhala.
In 1978, Mrs. Van Hollen became the chief analyst for Afghanistan in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department. With her background in Soviet affairs and knowledge of South Asia, she became an important asset to the department when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
She was one of the few to predict the invasion, and she later warned of the dangers of becoming too closely tied to the Taliban and extremist Islamic groups. She wrote articles on Afghanistan published by the State Department and later took three official trips to Moscow for discussions on Afghanistan and other South Asian issues.
Mrs. Van Hollen also served as the senior intelligence analyst for Pakistan and India, and in 1989 she became chief of the South Asia division of the intelligence and research bureau. She frequently testified before the Senate and House committees that had jurisdiction over intelligence and foreign policy issues.
In 1992, her work was recognized by the intelligence community when she received the National Medal of Achievement from the Director of Central Intelligence . She also received two Superior Honor awards, two Meritorious Honor awards and the Analyst of the Year award, among others.
She retired from State in 1994 but maintained her interest in foreign affairs with the McLean Foreign Policy Group. With her husband, she also became involved in son Chris Van Hollen's successful campaigns for the Maryland Senate in 1994 and the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002, playing a key role in the grass-roots door-to-door efforts for the Democrat.
Mrs. Van Hollen was active in the Women's National Democratic Club and enjoyed other pursuits, including her book club, gardening, hiking and cooking. She and her husband also spent time at their family home in Vermont, where she served as one of three trustees of the Big Basin Forest, an organization that owns and manages a large tract of Green Mountain forestland.
In addition to her husband of 54 years of Washington and her son of Kensington, survivors include two daughters, Caroline Van Hollen of Washington and Cecilia Van Hollen of Fayetteville, N.Y.; a brother; and five grandchildren.