Chattanooga native David Manker Abshire had illustrious career in capital

Was adviser to Reagan, ambassador to NATO

photo David Abshire

David Manker Abshire, a Chattanooga native who in 1962 co-founded the Center for Strategic and International Studies, died peacefully in his sleep Friday, surrounded by family. He was 88.

The CSIS is one of the most influential research institutions in Washington, D.C. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is one of many high-profile former U.S. officials on the board of the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that recently moved into a $100 million building in the capital's historic Dupont Circle neighborhood.

Abshire, a decorated Korean War veteran who graduated in 1944 from Baylor School here, had nearly 60 years of public service, including as U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1983 to 1987 and as special counselor to President Ronald Reagan during the Iran-Contra crisis.

The long list of Abshire's accomplishments includes being the first chairman of the board for International Broadcasting, which oversaw Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; serving on the board of the Procter and Gamble Co., and writing seven books, including "Preventing World War III: A Realistic Grand Strategy."

"He always considered himself a son of Chattanooga," said Max Angerholzer, president and CEO of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, on whose board Abshire served as vice chairman.

Though he left Chattanooga in the 1950s for the capitol, Abshire returned here regularly, including to visit Baylor, which offers rising seniors a chance to participate in the David M. Abshire Civic Leadership trip. It's an intensive, eight-day experiential course of study in Washington with an emphasis on national leadership, ethics, honor and service, the school's website says.

"He never forget where he was from. There was always that pull that East Tennessee had over him," Angerholzer said.

Both a current and a former U.S. senator from Tennessee mourned Abshire's passing.

"We loved David, a fellow Chattanoogan, and a giant of a man," said former U.S. Senator Bill Brock, a Republican who served from 1971-1977. "His service to this country was undying and continued to his death today. His vision in creating CSIS, which has become perhaps the most prestigious think tank in the world, was so far ahead of its time."

Current U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said in a statement, "Ambassador Abshire lived a life of service dedicated to making our country stronger."

Abshire's grandfather was John A. Patten, who founded what's now Chattem, a maker of over-the-counter medicines and health products.

Abshire is survived by his wife of 56 years, Carolyn Sample Abshire; five children: Lupton Abshire, Anna Bowman, Mary Lee Jenvsvold, Phyllis D'Hoop and Caroline Hall; and 11 grandchildren.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or or 423-757-6651.