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Charles Whitehouse; Decorated Pilot, CIA Official and Envoy

July 05, 2001|From The Washington Post

Charles S. Whitehouse, a decorated Marine Corps dive bomber pilot in World War II who later served overseas with the Central Intelligence Agency, and was ambassador to Laos and then Thailand in the early 1970s, has died. He was 79.

Whitehouse died of cancer June 25 at his home in Marshall, Va., here he had lived since 1979.

A critic of development encroaching around Marshall, Whitehouse--in what the former diplomat called the fight of his life--battled Walt Disney Co.'s attempt in the early 1990s to build a history theme park in Prince William County.

Whitehouse was born in Paris, the son of a career diplomat, and raised in Europe and South America. He served in the Navy and then in the Marine Corps. He was decorated with 21 Air Medals and seven Distinguished Flying Crosses.

He graduated from Yale University before coming to Washington and joining the CIA. He was posted to Congo, Turkey, Cambodia and Belgium before transferring to the State Department as a Foreign Service officer. He was then posted to South Africa.

Whitehouse returned to Washington in the 1960s and graduated from the National War College in 1966. He was posted to Guinea before being assigned in 1969 to South Vietnam as the diplomat in charge of the pacification program for the country's central region. Whitehouse directed aid and military activity against Communist forces.

He returned to Washington in 1971, serving as acting assistant secretary of State for East Asian affairs. He went back to Vietnam in 1972 to become deputy ambassador to Ellsworth Bunker.

When Bunker left in 1973, Whitehouse became ambassador to Laos and served there until becoming ambassador to Thailand in 1975. In that nation, he faced new difficulties, having to allay concerns over massive Cambodian and Laotian refugee camps and internal opposition to the U.S. military and intelligence presence in Thailand.

He returned to the United States and served in 1982 and 1983 as president of the American Foreign Service Assn. In 1988, he was appointed the first assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-density conflict, a post he held until 1989.

In 1993, the retired Whitehouse focused his attention on Disney's plans to develop 3,000 acres in Haymarket, Va. The development had the support of then-Virginia Gov. George Allen, legislators, Prince William County politicians and most of the Washington-area business establishment.

But Whitehouse, as chairman of the Warrenton, Va.-based Piedmont Environmental Council, helped muster a coalition of historians, public officials, landowners and other residents to thwart the Disney project. They railed against the threat to the local infrastructure and, perhaps ironically, to local historic sites.

Throughout the debate, the tall and regal-looking Whitehouse had to deflect charges that he was part of an elitist group trying to preserve a patrician way of life for the wealthy few. He noted the large outpouring of support from the rest of the community. In the face of snowballing bad publicity, Disney dropped its plans in 1994, and the tract later became a residential development.

Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Janet Grayson Whitehouse of Marshall; three children from his first marriage, which ended in divorce, Rhode Island Atty. Gen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Providence, Charles of New York and Sarah Whitehouse Atkins of Washington; three stepchildren; and 10 grandchildren.

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