Kermit Roosevelt, 84, TR's grandson

June 10, 2000|By Mark Ribbing and Jacques Kelly | Mark Ribbing and Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Kermit Roosevelt, a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt and a key player in the 1953 coup that restored the shah of Iran to power, died of a stroke Thursday at Broadmead, a Cockeysville retirement community where he had lived for the past four years. He was 84.

Mr. Roosevelt, who lived in Washington from 1943 to 1996, was teaching history at Harvard University when he joined the intelligence-gathering effort during World War II. He later served in the Central Intelligence Agency during its formative years in the 1940s and 1950s.

During an era of intense global rivalry with the Soviet Union, Mr. Roosevelt helped engineer one of the more spectacular victories of British and American cloak-and-dagger work - the toppling of Iran's prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and the reinstallation of the shah.

The overthrow eventually bore bitter fruit: less than 30 years later, fundamentalist Islamic revolutionaries chased out the shah and embroiled his Washington sponsors in a lengthy and humiliating hostage crisis.

On March 17, the Clinton administration acknowledged the "significant" role played by the United States in the overthrow and that such involvement in Iranian affairs had soured relations between the two nations.

But in the early years of the Cold War, the coup was regarded by the United States and Britain as a triumph that ensured the loyalty of a strategically crucial Persian Gulf nation.

"This was considered - and accurately so - an achievement that saved Iran from the Soviets, to be blunt about it," said John Waller, a retired CIA agent and longtime friend of Mr. Roosevelt's. "I think [Mr. Roosevelt] was one of the giants of the agency."

Kermit Roosevelt Jr. of Washington remembered his father yesterday as "soft-spoken, careful and not wildly expansive."

The junior Roosevelt said his father was a "circumspect" man whose demeanor mystified even the most famous double-agent of the last century. "I recall what Kim Philby had to say about my father: `He was the last person you'd expect to be up to his neck in dirty tricks.' "

The elder Kermit Roosevelt was born in Buenos Aires, where his father was a banker and shipping line official. He was reared at Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y., and spent time at his grandfather's home there, Sagamore Hill.

Mr. Roosevelt was a graduate of Groton School and Harvard, where he received an undergraduate degree in 1937.

That year, he married the former Mary Lowe Gaddis, who survives him.

As a young man he wrote speeches for his cousin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After leaving Harvard, he joined the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA, and was stationed in Cairo.

His Iran exploits turned Mr. Roosevelt into a CIA legend, but he had inherited his grandfather's independent streak. He disapproved of his supervisors' plan to overthrow Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, a rift that eventually led him to resign from the agency.

After leaving government service, he became a business consultant, retiring about 25 years ago. He recounted his Iran venture in a 1981 book, "Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran."

Mr. Roosevelt enjoyed hunting deer in Virginia with his sons and fishing off Nantucket, Mass., where he spent his summers. He also was an avid tennis player.

Plans for a memorial service in Siasconset, Nantucket, are pending.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Roosevelt is survived by two other sons, Jonathan Roosevelt of Sudbury, Mass., and Mark Roosevelt of Brookline, Mass.; a daughter, Anne Mason of Bethesda; a brother, Joseph Willard Roosevelt of Orient, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren.

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