W. Averell Harriman spent the first half-century of his long life largely pursuing the business interests and the pleasures that came with and were made possible by the inheritance of an enormous railroad fortune. He devoted the better part of the next four decades, from 1941 on, primarily to serving his country in an impressive and varied number of public positions. Self-assured, seasoned with the insights and shrewdness brought by ever-widening experience, a patient and tenacious negotiator, he put his administrative and diplomatic talents at the disposal of five Democratic Presidents. He became, and by no means only from longevity, one of those wise men whose counsel and willingness to serve help provide vital and indeed indispensable continuity and balance in the management of public affairs.
Two decades ago President Lyndon B. Johnson remarked that "what this country sorely needs is a new crop of Harrimans who put country above self, duty above person, and who will go anywhere at any time to do any task that has the promise of enlarging the hope for peace in this world." What was spoken as praise then becomes a fitting epitaph now. Averell Harriman worked hard, selflessly and to a remarkable extent successfully in service to his nation. He provided a superior model of what the citizen-statesman can be.