Former Kansas Congressman Robert Fred Ellsworth dies at age 84

Robert Fred Ellsworth, who graduated from Kansas University and went on to represent Kansas in Congress and serve as a presidential adviser, an international diplomat and leader of Sen. Bob Dole’s first presidential campaign, died Monday.

He was 84.

Ellsworth, a Navy veteran who received his KU degree in 1945, also was chairman and founding director of Hamilton BioVentures in Solana Beach, Calif., from which he had been on medical leave.

Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University, served as a director of Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign while Ellsworth served as campaign chairman.

Lacy regarded Ellsworth as a “very impressive public servant.”

“Bob Ellsworth was a great guy,” Lacy said. “He was one of the very, very few confidants that Bob Dole had. They were very close, and Senator Dole tapped him largely because he felt he could rely very heavily upon him.

“He was a fun guy to be around and a fun guy to work with. A very smart guy. Very capable. Strong leader.”

Ellsworth was born June 11, 1926, in Lawrence, and attended Lawrence schools before moving on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from KU. He received a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1949.

He served two tours of duty as an officer in the U.S. Navy: from 1944 to 1946, and again in 1950 to 1953, during the Korean War. He was in private law practice in Lawrence from 1955 to 1960, before his election to Congress.

He would serve three terms representing Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1961 to 1967. He sought the Republican nomination for Senate in 1966, and therefore did not seek re-election to his House seat.

Ellsworth was national political director for Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1968 and served as a special assistant to President Nixon in 1969 before his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to NATO, a role he held until 1971.

He served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from 1974 to 1975, and was nominated by President Ford to become deputy secretary of defense, a post he held until January 1977.

He was an officer and leader of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and was a member of the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission.

“He was just an all-around good guy and somebody that you wanted to know and work with,” Lacy said.