Lincoln Gordon: A Long and Productive Life

Brookings scholar Lincoln Gordon—who oversaw the implementation of the Marshall Plan after World War II—died on December 19 at the age of 96 after a long and productive life in the academic world and the government.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his doctorate from Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar, Gordon joined the government during World War II, serving as program vice chairman of the War Production Board.

After the war, he returned to Harvard to teach at the Business School. After four years, he became a State Department official, assigned to the U.S. Embassy in London, where he served as director of the Marshall Plan Mission, the post-war economic recovery plan for Europe. Gordon noted later, “To let Western Europe collapse for want of some dollars would have been a tragedy.”

The Marshall Plan was drafted by Brookings scholars at the request of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and was named for then-Secretary of State George Marshall, who had originally expressed the need for such a recovery plan.

After returning to Harvard for six years as a professor in the late 1950s, Gordon rejoined the government. During the Kennedy administration, he helped develop the Alliance for Progress, an aid program designed to prevent impoverished Latin American countries from turning to revolution and socialism. He served for five years as U.S. ambassador to Brazil. Gordon wrote of his fears that Brazil would become “the China of the 1960s.”

After a coup deposed Brazil’s left-leaning government, Gordon and the CIA denied that they had been involved. President Lyndon Johnson praised Gordon’s service in Brazil as “a rare combination of experience and scholarship, idealism and practical judgment.” Johnson appointed Gordon to be assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs.

Gordon returned to academia in 1967, serving as president of Johns Hopkins University for four years. One of his major accomplishments was to admit women students to the previously all-male Johns Hopkins undergraduate program.

Gordon joined Brookings in 1984 as a scholar in the Economic Studies program. He wrote numerous books and papers and participated in events on his many areas of expertise and interest. In 2001, his work, Brazil’s Second Chance: En Route toward the First World, was published by the Brookings Institution Press.

Lincoln Gordon’s insights, scholarship, rich real-world experience and ever-present smile will be missed.