Angier Biddle Duke

Angier Biddle Duke

Death 29 Apr 1995 (aged 79)
Burial Durham, Durham County, North Carolina, USA
Memorial ID 42376054 · View Source
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Age 79

Angier Biddle Duke, scion of two aristocratic American families who served as Ambassador to El Salvador, Denmark, Spain and Morocco and who was chief of protocol for two Presidents, died yesterday near his home in Southampton, L.I., after being struck by a car while Rollerblading.

He was 79. Mr. Duke's brother, Anthony, said that no charges had been filed against the driver.

After he retired from the diplomatic service in 1981, Mr. Duke served for many years as the $1-a-year chancellor of the Southampton Center of Long Island University.

More recently, he served as chairman of Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America, a Washington-based group supporting the rebels against Nicaragua's Marxist Government. And in 1992, he was elected president of the Council of American Ambassadors, an organization of those who served as envoys.

Mr. Duke, whose father was Angier Buchanan Duke, was heir to part of the fortune from the American Tobacco Company, which was founded in 1890 by his great-uncle James Buchanan Duke. Angier Biddle Duke was the grandson of Benjamin N. Duke, who with his brother, James, heavily endowed Trinity College in Durham, N.C. The college later changed its name to Duke University.

Mr. Duke's mother was Cordelia Drexel Biddle of Philadelphia, a writer. His family thus expected much of him, but his early years were not auspicious.

Born in New York City on Nov. 30, 1915, Mr. Duke was educated at St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., and entered Yale in 1934. But he dropped out in 1936.

He married Priscilla St. George of Tuxedo Park, N.Y., in 1937 and set off on a round-the-world honeymoon. The couple settled in Tuxedo Park, and he worked in New York as skiing editor for a sports magazine. Their marriage ended in divorce three years later.

By the end of the 1930's, he was better known for his social standing and social excesses than for his industry. He was arrested several times for driving too fast in New York and New Jersey. Fast driving, sometimes after having consumed a considerable quantity of alcohol, was a problem that would recur for many years. He got at least one suspended jail sentence, and in the summer of 1939, his driver's license was revoked by New York State.

Mr. Duke said he became more serious after the United States was caught up in World War II. He served as an Air Force officer in North Africa and Europe and saw war's ravages first-hand, including the survivors of Nazi concentration camps. He was discharged with the rank of major.

In 1949, A. Stanton Griffis, an investment banker who was the newly appointed Ambassador to Argentina, asked Mr. Duke if he would like to become an assistant in Buenos Aires. Mr. Griffis knew that Mr. Duke spoke Spanish and thought he would help in shouldering the burden for the embassy's social functions. Two years later, when Mr. Griffis was posted to Madrid, Mr. Duke was asked to go along.

If the job had come Mr. Duke's way because of his connections, he did not take it for granted. His work was such that in 1952, President Harry S. Truman appointed him Ambassador to El Salvador. At the age of 36, he was then the youngest person ever to hold such a post in the nation's history.

Mr. Duke's friends said he worked even harder in San Salvador than he had in Buenos Aires. Reviewing his performance, one El Salvadoran newspaperman said in 1953 that Mr. Duke had "dedicated more sewers, slaughterhouses and clinics than half a dozen politicians."

Mr. Duke also converted to Roman Catholicism and married his third wife, Maria-Luisa de Aranal of Spain, in 1952. His second marriage, to Margaret Screven White, had failed earlier that year.

Originally a Republican, Mr. Duke had switched and become an active worker for Democratic causes in the late 1940's.

He held no ambassadorship during the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 through 1960 but looked after his own business interests and worked for the Democratic Party's national causes. He also became deeply involved with the International Rescue Committee, a group devoted to assisting refugees and other victims of political upheavals. He went to Europe in 1956 to help refugees of the Hungarian Revolution. In 1960, President-elect John F. Kennedy, a personal friend, invited him to be his chief of protocol. The new President also granted him the personal rank of ambassador, the first chief of protocol ever to have this rank.

Mr. Duke won plaudits from the diplomatic community for his efficiency and for his seriousness of purpose. He used his office to help nonwhite diplomats find housing. In 1961, he resigned from the Metropolitan Club of Washington after it refused to admit black diplomats.

But those years were not without difficulty for him. In 1961, his wife was killed when a small chartered plane in which she was a passenger crashed in Jackson Heights, Queens. She had been returning to their home in Southampton from a diplomatic function.

Mr. Duke was married a fourth time, the next year, to Robin Chandler Lynn.

In 1963, he supervised the protocol for world leaders who attended the funeral of President Kennedy. In addition, Jacqueline Kennedy asked him to compile accounts of the funerals of Washington, Lincoln, Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding and Edward VII of England. He hurriedly mobilized a research staff of seven to do the job.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent him to Spain as Ambassador. In 1966, a B-52 was involved in a collision and accidentally dropped four unarmed hydrogen bombs of 25 megatons each in the Mediterranean Sea near Palomares, Spain. The bombs, none of which exploded, had a total of 5,000 times the power of the bomb that had destroyed Hiroshima.

There were fears that the sea might be contaminated with radioactivity, and Spanish tourism seemed headed for a poor season. Mr. Duke, joined by Manuel Fraga Iribane, Spain's Minister of Information, went swimming in the cold water of March to prove to the world that everything was normal. All the bombs were eventually recovered.

At the end of 1967, Mr. Duke left his ambassadorial post, then served briefly as Johnson's chief of protocol.

He then held two final ambassadorships, one to Denmark in 1968-69 and the other to Morocco in 1979-81. In between, he served in a number of positions, including New York City's Commissioner of Civic Affairs and Public Events, a $1-a-year post to which he was appointed by Mayor Abraham D. Beame. In it, he ran a staff of 17 with a budget of nearly $360,000 a year. He resigned in 1976 to work for Jimmy Carter's campaign for the Presidency.

In 1981, when Mr. Duke retired from the United States Foreign Service, he received the first Hans J. Morgenthau Award for his "exemplary foreign policy contributions to the United States." Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger praised him, and Francis H. Kellogg, a chairman of the event, said Mr. Duke was "the subject of superstition and legend, leaving a sparkling trail millions of miles long."

Survivors include a daughter, Maria-Luisa Cluett of Big Sur, Calif.; three sons, A. St. George Biddle Duke of Absarokee, Mont., Dario Duke of San Jose, Costa Rica, and Angier Biddle Duke Jr. of Buenos Aires; a stepson, Jeffrey Lynn of Southampton, L.I.; a stepdaughter, Letitia Valiunas of Charleston, S.C.; his brother Anthony Duke, of Old Brookville, L.I., and five grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, on Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street.

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  • Created by: Laurie
  • Added: 25 Sep 2009
  • Find A Grave Memorial 42376054
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Angier Biddle Duke (13 Nov 1915–29 Apr 1995), Find A Grave Memorial no. 42376054, citing Maplewood Cemetery, Durham, Durham County, North Carolina, USA ; Maintained by Laurie (contributor 2811407) .