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  • A Pillar of the School
  • Michael Mandelbaum (bio)

Fred Holborn was a splendid colleague, a wonderful teacher, and a pillar of the School.

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In Memoriam
Frederick Holborn, Senior Adjunct Professor of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies from 1971–2005, passed away last June shortly after his retirement. Holborn also served for many years on the SAIS Review Advisory Board. Michael Mandelbaum, Director of the American Foreign Policy Program at SAIS, delivered the following eulogy at a memorial service for Holborn on Sept. 21, 2005, at SAIS.

In the 15 years that we were colleagues in the American Foreign Policy department he served as an indispensable repository of sound advice about teaching, students, and School-wide matters. He knew all three very well and [End Page 206] had, in addition, a large reservoir of good judgment and common sense. It is one of the dismaying discoveries of life that these two qualities are in short supply everywhere—although, given that Fred's sister, Hanna Holborn Gray, has had a distinguished career as Provost of Yale, President of the University of Chicago, and member of the Harvard Corporation, they do seem to run in the Holborn family. Whenever Sean Ingram or Frances Galante, or one of their predecessors or successors as departmental coordinator, asked me a question concerning how to make, or apply, or bend a rule, my first response was: Ask Fred what he thinks. What he thought was invariably helpful in determining the course to take.

Fred was also a wonderful teacher, and it is as a teacher that he will be remembered with great affection and gratitude by so many SAIS alumni. I use the term "teacher" broadly, for that was the way in which Fred interpreted it. His role as a teacher transcended the classroom. He was an adviser on course selection and paper writing, a guide to the literature of several academic fields, a counselor on job possibilities, and a friend with whom those who encountered him in this building remained in contact long after they left SAIS.

Fred was a superb teacher in part because he was accessible. He came into the office almost every day that he was in Washington, including weekends. His door was open. He was easily approachable while eating a sandwich in the cafeteria, or taking time outside this building to indulge—not exactly proudly but not furtively either—in a cigarette. Being available was the foundation of Fred's powerful influence, but to impute his success as a teacher simply to the time he spent with students would be to miss much of both what teaching requires and what Fred brought to the enterprise.

He was also a superb teacher because he knew his subjects. He was, it is not, I think, too much to say, the ideal SAIS faculty member. This School, after all, straddles two worlds, combining academic fields such as history, political science, and economics with a commitment to understanding the practical issues of government and public policy. Fred knew both worlds well. Before coming to SAIS he served as an aide to Senator, then President, John F. Kennedy. He worked not only on Capitol Hill and in the White House but in the Justice and State Departments as well. He kept up his contacts in, and familiarity with, both the Executive branch and the Congress. He knew, as well as any of us on the faculty and better than most, one of the most important things that students come to SAIS to learn: how the American government works.

He also knew the academic literature on how the government works, and much else besides. He was a connoisseur of books and ideas, one of the most widely read people I have ever met. Many of our conversations over the years concerned books—usually recently published books that I was considering reading and that Fred had already read. The subject of our last extended discussion was a diplomatic history of Europe in the interwar period, a review of which I had just seen. As someone whose parents had taken him out of...


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