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Ambassador George Crews McGhee

Ambassador George C. McGheeGeorge Crews McGhee (1912-2005) was a Rhodes Scholar, oil entrepreneur, naval officer, statesman, diplomat, and philanthropist who became a central figure in postwar American diplomacy by helping to create and shape U.S. economic, military, and petroleum ties from Europe to the Far East. Over the course of his long career he served four presidents, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, and twice served as ambassador.

Born on March 10, 1912, George McGhee was the son of a Waco, Texas bank executive and his wife. As a child, young George developed an interest in rocks, minerals, and native flora and fauna; his childhood exploring portended a lifelong passion for collecting. He studied geology at the University of Oklahoma, and after graduating in 1933 he took up work with various oil companies. Yet McGhee dreamed of becoming a Rhodes Scholar, and spent two years earning the scholarship. Ultimately successful on his second try, he attended Oxford University and earned his doctorate in 1937. McGhee documented his time in England through his correspondence with his parents, compiled in a book entitled Oxford Letters, and his love of photography, which resulted in over one hundred scrapbooks which were donated to Oklahoma University.

Returning stateside, McGhee worked for the eminent oil geologist Everette Lee DeGolyer, scouting and acquiring promising oil fields. The relationship proved to be an everlasting one, as McGhee married DeGolyer's daughter Cecilia, whom he described as "the most beautiful and richest girl in Texas." McGhee became an independent explorer in 1940, and shortly thereafter discovered a lucrative field in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The success of the McGhee Production Company would sustain him financially for the rest of his life.

The outbreak of World War II led McGhee to enter the service of his country as a staff member in the Office of Production Management and on the War Production Board. He made his biggest contribution serving as a naval air intelligence officer in the Pacific on the staff of General Curtis E. LeMay. This service earned him the Legion of Merit in 1945. McGhee returned to civilian life at the war's end, but was enticed to enter the political sphere by William L. Clayton, a fellow Texan and then an undersecretary of state. McGhee joined the State Department in 1946 and quickly rose within the ranks. He traveled extensively in Africa and the Middle East to promote industrialization, disburse aid, and negotiate military and petroleum agreements.

During this period of his career, McGhee fostered a lasting connection with the nation of Turkey. From 1951 to 1953 he served as ambassador to that country, assisting its entry into NATO membership. His family resided with him at a restored Ottoman villa in Alanya named "Turkish Delight"; the McGhees later donated this home to Georgetown University as The McGhee Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies.

McGhee returned to his duties in the State Department, continuing the work which would ultimately earn him the nickname "Mr. U.S." and establishing a reputation as a bulwark against communism in the early stages of the Cold War. He traveled extensively in his capacity as Undersecretary for Political Affairs, most particularly to the Congo and the Dominican Republic. From 1963 to 1968 McGhee once again took up the mantle of ambassador, this time to West Germany. He was present for President Kennedy's famed "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, and advocated the American cause in a country torn apart by the Cold War.

McGhee retired to Farmer's Delight Plantation officially in 1969, but remained active professionally and politically. He served on numerous advisory boards, and held seats on the corporate boards of such companies as Mobil Oil, Proctor & Gamble, and Trans World Airlines (TWA). He also wrote several books about his diplomatic career, including a memoir entitled I Did It This Way (2001), and even a semi-autobiographical novel, The Dance of the Billions: A Novel About Texas, Houston, and Oil (1990).

After a lifetime of service, George Crews McGhee passed away on July 4, 2005 at the age of 93. His wife of 63 years, Cecilia DeGolyer McGhee, preceded him in death (2001), as did two of their six children. Yet the McGhees' spirit of service lives on in The McGhee Foundation.

Ambassador and Mrs. McGhee traveled to nearly every corner of the world, and seemed to bring home a piece from every destination. A large mineral collection, personal papers of Ambassador McGhee, writings and manuscripts, business papers, family scrapbooks and photo albums, and a large slide collection containing over 46,000 slides of world travels over five decades have been donated to Oklahoma University.