Remembering Ellsworth

Remembering Ellsworth

In memory of Robert F. Ellsworth (June 11, 1926—May 9, 2011)


The Center for the National Interest and The National Interest lost a leader and a dear friend with the death of Bob Ellsworth on Monday, May 9.

Center Honorary Chairman and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a close colleague for many years, described Ellsworth as “a great public servant and a valued friend.” Bob was a key member of the Center’s board from its inception and had been Vice Chairman since 2008. He was also President of The National Interest, Inc. and a long-time member of the magazine’s Advisory Council.


Bob was among the small group who advised Richard Nixon on the creation of the Center in the early 1990s. Nixon relied heavily on Bob’s advice over the years, both in and out of government—he knew, as he put it, that Bob was one of the rare individuals in Washington who would tell him what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear.

As a true gentleman, Bob Ellsworth always delivered his candid views with grace and tact, to Nixon and to others. Though very independent-minded—demonstrated in his opposition to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and his endorsement of Barack Obama after a lifelong career as a leading Republican—Bob’s personal charm and openness ensured that he was widely respected and admired, even by those with different perspectives. Bob was rare for one of his stature and accomplishment in being able to take bold positions on important issues while always remaining civil and ensuring that differences were substantive rather than personal.

During his long and varied career, Bob was a soldier, a politician, a diplomat, an official, a scholar, and, most recently, an investor. This included service in World War II and the Korean War, in the United States Congress, as Ambassador to NATO and later Assistant Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. In addition to his leadership at our Center and its magazine, Bob served for many years as Chairman of the Council of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London). He was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council, the American Council on Germany, and many other internationally-focused organizations.

Bob was also a great patriot. He worked and fought throughout his life to advance American leadership, American security, and American principles. He believed strongly in America’s exceptionalism—but was convinced that our country should also be exceptional in its tolerance and humility in dealing with others. Bob was also a profoundly religious man, married to an Episcopal priest. Yet as in the case of his patriotism, his piety was personal rather than public.

Robert Ellsworth was a genuine role model—a man of uncommon strength, determination, wisdom, and warmth whom all should emulate. He will be greatly missed. We offer our deepest condolences to his wife, Rev. Eleanor Ellsworth, and his family.