'W. AVERELL HARRIMAN, who died yesterday at age 94, was one of the last of those businessmen and financiers of great privilege who moved easily from the private to the public sector and from the domestic to the international orbit as the United States took up a global role in World War II. As a diplomat, presidential envoy and then a public personality in his own right, he operated near the peak of power for an uncommonly long period, marking in his own career the nation's phases of wartime confidence, postwar involvement, disenchantment and a subsequent effort to rebuild.
As his friend Franklin Roosevelt's ambassador to Moscow during World War II, Gov. Harriman began the high-level diplomacy that was to make him a leading figure in Soviet-American relations. A practical and hardheaded man without intellectual pretense or ideological baggage, he threw himself into making the wartime alliance work. The early postwar turn to great-power tension -- which he saw coming earlier than most -- found him serving Harry Truman's policy in the Cold War. Under John Kennedy, his work centered on exploring diplomatic possibilities in respect to Indochina and a partial nuclear test ban -- he led the American team that negotiated the treaty of 1963. By the time of Jimmy Carter's presidency, he had moved on from Washington infighter and diplomatic insider to liberal elder statesman.
Gov. Harriman was a political man through and through. As a Democrat who had abandoned the Republicanism of his class before the New Deal, he took successive presidential appointments, served a term as governor of New York in the 1950s, ran unsuccessfully twice for his party's presidential nomination, and stayed active in party affairs thereafter. He came to be identified with the party's liberal wing, and in particular its aspirations for making Soviet-American relations safer and more stable by mutual restraints on nuclear arms. Yet the same long personal exposure to the Kremlin -- from Stalin on -- that gave him much of his cachet also gave him a realistic sense of what to expect from the relationship, and what not to.
The Crocodile, they called him, for his readiness to lie in wait and then take off some erring soul's head. His sheer longevity and even more his prolonged vitality, his grasp of high office and his frustrated reach for higher office, his service to political ideas and institutions in which he believed, the aristocrat's always surprising taste for the rigors of seeking power and making policy in a rough democracy: these things made this distinguished citizen a memorable man. And he did make it strong to 94; he had a good run.