Asia Society Remembers Phillips Talbot (1915-2010)

Former Asia Society President Phillips Talbot (1915-2010) in front of the Society's Park Avenue headquarters in 1981. (Dan Sterbling/Asia Society)

NEW YORK, October 4, 2010 - Asia Society is mourning the passing of Phillips Talbot, its former President and a groundbreaking American observer of Asian affairs.

"Phil was a statesman, a great leader and a thoughtful observer of US-Asia relations. We will miss his wisdom and commitment," said Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai.

Ambassador Talbot died in New York on October 1 at the age of 95.  Born on June 7, 1915, he pursued a long and distinguished academic and diplomatic career.

He served as US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations from 1961 to 1965.

He also was Ambassador to Greece from 1965 to 1969.

Ambassador Talbot served as President of Asia Society from 1970 to 1981 and wrote extensively about the region in books and journals over many decades.

India awarded him the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2002 in recognition of his efforts to build understanding between that country and the United States.

His love and understanding of Asia began in 1939, when he first traveled to India on a student fellowship.

During World War II he served in India and China as a US Naval liaison officer and attaché.

After the war, he reported from the subcontinent as a correspondent for the Chicago Daily News and witnessed Indian independence from British rule and partition from Pakistan in 1947. He also wrote about fledging independence movements in Southeast Asia.

During the 1950s he returned to academia in the United States and directed an inter-university program devoted to the study of the developing countries as they emerged from colonialism. It was at that time that he played an important role as an advisor at the time of the founding of Asia Society in 1956 under the patronage of John D. Rockefeller 3rd.

"Phil Talbot was an early American pioneer in the field of Asian Studies," Dr. Desai said.

"Traveling the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent in the 1930s, he experienced first-hand the power of Gandhi's non-violent independence movement.

"He was one of the very few Americans present at the formation of independent Pakistan and India in 1947.

"As President of the Asia Society, Ambassador Talbot oversaw the expansion of the institution's New York headquarters and its move to its present location on Park Avenue in 1981.

"He remained engaged with the activities of the Society until his last days."

His wife Mildred and son Bruce preceded him in death. He is survived by his daughters, Nancy Talbot and Susan Talbot Jacox, and a grandson, David Franklin Jacox.

A memorial service will be held at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church on October 15 at 6:00 pm. A reception will follow.

Related link:
Phillips Talbot (1915-2010): Witness to History (slideshow)