Former Secretary Of State Rogers Dies

--William Pierce Rogers points to a photo of himself, President Nixon and Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai, on Oct. 7, 1997, during an interview in his law office in Washington. Rogers, the urbane lawyer who was attorney general in the Eisenhower administration and secretary of state under President Nixon, has died, a spokesman for his law firm said Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2001
AP (file)
William Pierce Rogers, the urbane lawyer who was attorney general in the Eisenhower administration and secretary of state under President Nixon, has died, a spokesman for his law firm said Wednesday.

He was 87.

Rogers died Tuesday night in a hospital in suburban Maryland after a brief illness. Tom Mariam, communications director for Clifford, Chance, Rogers & Wells, said Rogers had been in frail health.

During five decades as a public official and private attorney, Rogers was involved in the civil rights movement, the diplomatic opening to China and the search for peace in the Middle East.

As a private attorney, he represented civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. before the Supreme Court in a landmark libel case.

While Rogers was Nixon's secretary of state he often found himself sidelined by Henry A. Kissinger, the president's national security assistant who played a secret and prominent role in advancing Nixon's foreign policy — especially an opening to communist China.

In 1973, Rogers gave up the post and Kissinger was named secretary while retaining his White House post.

Rogers' long relationship with Nixon was strained by Watergate and the fierce infighting between Rogers and Kissinger.

"The way I treated Rogers was terrible," Nixon was quoted as saying in a book published four years after his death in 1994. "I had Kissinger, and he and I kept so many things from Rogers, and that was inexcusable," the former president told aide Monica Crowley, author of Nixon in Winter.

Though he was secretary of state, Rogers knew nothing of Kissinger's secret negotiations with North Vietnam and his trip to China to prepare the way for Nixon's dramatic opening to the communist country.

Rogers was last in the spotlight in 1986, when he chaired the commission that investigated the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.

For his part, Rogers remembered Nixon with mixed feelings.

"I never before had a friend who turned out to be not quite a friend," said Rogers in a 1997 interview. As for the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon from office, Rogers said, "He never asked me about any of that nonsense until much too late."

He recalled Eisenhower far more warmly. Rogers was attorney general for the final 15 months of Eisenhower's presidency and described him as "one of the smartest people I ever knew," a man of unquestioned integrity who never interfered with Justice Department activities.

During his tenure as attorney general, Rogers established the Civil Rights Division as a permanent part of the department.

Rogers had little foreign policy experience when Nixon named him secretary of state.

"I recognized when I took the job that President Nixon wanted to run things himself and that's what he did. He did it through Kissinger. He always sort of resented the State Department," he later recalled.

Turning his attention to the Middle East, a region Kissingr was showing little interest in, Rogers proposed the recognition of the rights of all states in the region and the return of territories Israel had captured in the 1967 war.

Both Arabs and Israelis rejected the plan. Rogers later had the satisfaction of feeling that his plan's principles were the basis for much of the current peace process.

Born in Norfolk, New York, Rogers was a graduate of Cornell University and Cornell Law School.

During Eisenhower's second term, Rogers served as attorney general. When Eisenhower left office, Rogers went into private practice.

He represented King before the Supreme Court in the libel case that made it more difficult for public figures to win judgments against the news media.

Among his other clients were media organizations, including The Associated Press.

Rogers is survived by his wife, Adele, and four children: daughter Dale Rogers Marshall and three sons, Douglas, Jeffrey and Anthony Rogers.