Feb. 5, 1900
Adlai Ewing Stevenson II was the 5th Ambassador to the United Nations whose geniality and wit won him the devoted admiration of millions of Americans. He dealt patiently with the grave issues that confronted the world organization.
He was born on Feb. 5, 1900 in Los Angeles, where his father was an executive of Hearst newspapers, and the owner of several mining and ranching properties. He was a grandson and namesake of Adlai Stevenson, who was Vice President during Grover Cleveland’s second term. A maternal great-grandfather, Jesse Fell, had been a close friend and campaign manager for Abraham Lincoln.
In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Stevenson as ambassador to the U.N. He was chosen because of his vast foreign affairs knowledge and because Kennedy had been pressured by influential Democrats to take Stevenson. He was in the thick of debate and negotiations during the Bay of Pigs and Cuban missile crises, disarmament talks, upheavals in the Congo, the war in South Vietnam and the revolt in Santa Domingo.
As a diplomat, he put in punishing hours, working most days from 8:00 A.M. to well after midnight. He was modest, charming, and preferred casual clothes while working. His love of informal attire was due to both personal comfort and his not being a conspicuous spender.
Many politicians were unenthusiastic about him because he seemed reluctant to work with them and because they thought he talked over people’s heads.
He was a familiar sight during television coverage of Security Council debates, listening intensely to the other delegates. He was relaxed when he spoke. He could be showy, as when he was disputing Soviet spokesmen, or idealistic, as when illustrating the importance of the United Nations as the world’s peacekeepers.
Mr. Stevenson held Cabinet rank, but there were indications that his role as a policy-maker was limited. In the Bay of Pigs crisis in 1961 he suffered grave embarrassment in Security Council debates because the White House had not briefed him truthfully on the United States involvement in the invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles. It was a measure of his popularity in the diplomatic community that he recovered from that incident with little loss of prestige.
Stevenson wasn’t too thrilled about his United Nations responsibilities. On Feb. 7, 1965, he told New York Times Magazine reporter Martin Mayer, “This job has been a terrible drill. There is a disadvantage in being anywhere other than the seat of power. And when any situation has become insoluble, it gets dumped onto us. But it’s easy to reconcile a sense of duty with this job. When demagoguery and deceit become a national political movement, we Americans are in trouble; not just Democrats, but all of us.”
A month before Kennedy’s assassination, Stevenson was hit in the head by a protester in Dallas on October 24, 1963. The woman who had hit Stevenson with her anti-United Nations sign was promptly arrested. He told police not to arrest her, stating that “I don’t want her to go to jail, I want her to go to school.” Disturbed by the incident, Stevenson advised the President not to visit the city.
On July 14, 1965, while living in London, Stevenson collapsed from a heart attack. He died later that day of heart failure at St. George’s Hospital.
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