Statesman Cyrus Roberts Vance (March 27, 1917-January 12, 2002) was born in Clarksburg. He received his law degree at Yale in 1942. During World War II, he served in the Far East as a gunnery officer in the navy.
Vance became a partner in the New York City law firm of Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett. His first government post was counsel to Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson’s special committee on space and astronautics, which helped draft the law creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. When President Kennedy took office in 1961, Vance was named general counsel for the Department of Defense. In 1962, he became secretary of the army. He moved up to become Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s deputy secretary of defense in 1964, and later he turned down an offer to succeed McNamara as secretary.
President Johnson dispatched Vance on trouble-shooting missions in Cyprus, Korea, and Vietnam, and to investigate police corruption in New York City and the riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1977, President Carter tapped Vance as his secretary of state, where he served in quiet contrast to predecessor Henry Kissinger. In 1978, Vance was instrumental in the Camp David peace accord between Egypt and Israel and in negotiating the Panama Canal Treaty. In a much-publicized disagreement, Vance resigned his post when, over his objections, President Carter decided in 1980 to launch the ill-fated helicopter effort to rescue the hostages being held in the American Embassy in Iran.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the secretary general of the United Nations sent Vance on peace-keeping missions to Yugoslavia, South Africa, and Greece. Vance promoted reconciliation with the Soviet Union, human rights as a pillar of American foreign policy, opportunities for minorities in the court system and State Department, and patient diplomacy as an alternative to the use of force. He died in New York City.
Written by Ken Hechler