As secretary of state from 1961 to 1969, Dean Rusk was involved in some of the most controversial foreign policy decisions in U.S. history and was the target of demonstrations on American streets. Yet he also was a man of quiet demeanor, admired and respected by those who knew him.

Rusk, who died at his home in Athens, Ga., this week at age 85, led a quiet life as a college professor after leaving Washington, D.C., in 1969. But for eight years he lived in a political maelstrom that featured several of the worst episodes of the Cold War.A rising star in the State Department, Rusk had left the diplomatic service in 1952 to become president of the Rockefeller Foundation. When John F. Kennedy became U.S. president in 1961, he chose Rusk as his secretary of state. Rusk continued to serve in the same capacity for President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Those were tumultuous and often dreadful times for U.S. foreign policy. Rusk was barely in office when the disastrous and embarrassing Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba was launched by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles. This was followed by East Germany's building of the infamous Berlin Wall.

Then came the Cuban missile crisis that brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war. Rusk later was involved in President Johnson's military adventure into Vietnam and was a favorite target of anti-war protesters, including his own son.

To have survived such a series of foreign policy setbacks with his reputation still intact says a great deal about Rusk as a man. Those who knew best praised him as "selfless" and "a devoted servant" to the nation. Even officials of the opposing political party spoke of him with affection and admiration.

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Politics of the moment, policy decisions and even earth-shaking events come and go. What endures is character. By that measuring rod, Dean Rusk was an American who earned his country's respect.

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