George Bunn
5/26/1925 – 4/21/2013

My sister Jessie Bunn summed it up well:
“A life well lived. Negotiator of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School, Professor at Stanford, world traveler, mentor to many young people fighting the good fight for a world without nuclear weapons, and my father. Let’s remember him with love and funny stories.”

So, this is the place to do that remembering. We encourage anyone with a memory about George to post it here.  If you’ve got a photo or a document you’d like to include, e-mail them to me at matthew_bunn@harvard.edu, and I will post them.  (Photos, information on the memorial service, and publications and related documents are available on the pages listed at the top.)

To start:
Here is the obituary from Stanford University.
Here is the obituary from the Washington Post.
Here is a nice “In Memoriam” piece by Roland Timerbaev in Arms Control Today.
Here is a Wikipedia page on George.
Here is a nice piece by Michael Krepon at ArmsControlWonk on “George Bunn: Norm Builder.”
Here is a set of video interviews with George on the origins of the NPT and its safeguards.

To offer a remembrance of your own, post a comment in the Guestbook at the bottom of this page.

16 thoughts on “

  1. Running Aground

    George was an avid sailor. In the 1960s, he had a boat he sailed on the Chesapeake Bay. At one point, he accidentally sailed into an area the Navy used as a firing range — and then ran aground on a sandbar. The tide was going down — so despite he and his passengers getting off the boat and trying to push it off the bar, no luck. Ultimately, the Navy — quite annoyed at the intrusion into their zone — had to tow him off the bar. A blow to his sailing pride!

  2. George was a true guide star to encourage thinking to what can be done to make this place more stable. I first met him in 1984 and then repeated over the decades. It was my pleasure to have the office next to George when at Stanford (2005-6), lots of chatting, over for dinner, etc. Who else could one ask, “was Glassboro connected to NPT promises” (no). George, you are missed, what a cheerful voice in the morning, Dave

  3. For several years I shared every other Wednesday evening with George and 6-8 other members of a “spirit group” sponsored by the UU Church of Palo Alto. Though aging then, George was a wonderful, upbeat, humble presence in the group. And I will not forget his courage in sharing with the entire congregation one Sunday an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s–a disease that seemed to frighten him, uncharacteristically. Even after that announcement, I recall his riding a bicycle all around Palo Alto, to Stanford, to church, to other events. I wish I’d known him better and much longer, for he was a Mensch of Norwegian heritage, a heritage of which he was most proud.

  4. “Let’s go get something to eat”

    In the 1950s, while working at the firm that is now Arnold and Porter, George did some volunteer work on the case that ultimately led to the desegregation of restaurants in Washington DC. (Indeed, he came up with the argument that ultimately won the day in the Supreme Court, though he didn’t argue the case.) One night, working in the evening at the Library of Congress with an African-American friend and colleague on the case, George got hungry. He turned to his friend and said “Let’s go get something to eat.” His friend said: “You have no idea what we’re working on, do you? There’s no restaurant within miles of here where you and I could eat together.” In his humble way, George often told this story of forgetting the basics of a situation about himself.

  5. I am Bill Hilton’s wife and I too was a member of the spirit group of which George was a part, in fact for longer than Bill. As I am of Norwegian decent, George and I used to share Norwegian jokes, in particular. He was a member of a Norwegian band that played once at the church, after which he gave me a CD of that music. We also shared a love of music. He often talked of his mother singing Christmas carols with him one night, long after Alzheimer’s had taken away her ability to speak, and of how precious that moment was to him. I, too, found that music was one of the strongest connections with my own parents. We liked hearing George play the flute at church. He was willing to do this even when it became more difficult. George was truly dedicated to nuclear non-proliferation work, even though it at times took him away from his family for months on end. But he gave this world a gift with his contributions to the treaty during the Kennedy administration, and for many years beyond. He was a remarkable, brilliant man with a kind heart and a rich soul. He is very much missed.

  6. Boiled socks

    George was never much of a homemaker. His mind was mostly elsewhere. But after he and my mother divorced, he was left with me to take care of (then just entering adolescence — my older brother and sister were already out of the house). One time he bought some socks for me that were too big. So he thought “well, hot water shrinks things, I’ll just boil them and make them the right size.” But he made two mistakes. First, they were nylon socks. Second, he went into his study and forgot about it after putting the pan on to boil. All the water boiled away, and the socks began to melt. I was in the living room playing a board game with a friend. My friend looked up, took a sniff, and walked out of the house without saying a word. I looked over and clouds of acrid black smoke were pouring out of the kitchen. We had to throw that pot out, and it took a while to get the burnt plastic smell out of the house!

  7. I met George when I first came to CISAC in 2005, although he was well known to me through his writings and his legacy in the nuclear arena. At CISAC I had the pleasure of interacting with George for several years before he retired. He was an inspiration – always ready to answer questions, willing to work with the young, and always with a smile. To me he was a legendary figure in the arms control arena – he knew everything there was to know about the NPT; not surprisingly, since he was the American author.
    I also will never forget how George religiously wrote this three-wheeled recumbent bike to work. The bike had a tall flag for safety and George pedaled in a determined fashion below that flag.
    We will miss him, but he left the world a safer place – and filled us all with happiness through that great smile.
    Sig Hecker

  8. My cousin Sue Bissell (George’s niece) writes:

    I have many fond memories of my uncle George. His warm, deep booming voice and laugh. My brother, Bob, and I spent lots of time at the summer place on the Chesapeake. He and Bonnie invited us out often when my mother, George’s sister, was hospitalized with schizophrenia. One summer he gave me a golden pocket book of insect identification which I loved.

    Our families shared Thanksgivings and other holidays with Jessie, Peter and Matt and the Fosters. I went to George Washington University and on several occasions, George and Bonnie invited me and my friends to parties at their house. This was in the mid sixties and George and his friends liked hearing what we young people thought about the war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. My friends and I had been arrested at the mass protests. I felt completely supported by George and Bonnie and their friends who seemed so smart and so cool.

    Some of my friends were hiding their civil disobedience from their parents and were impressed that my relatives were so liberal and so interesting. George and Bonnie threw great parties, with amazing food, drinks and music, Jazz. These were magical evenings for me and my roommates. I remember thinking that maybe I would like to be some sort of diplomat so I could be like George and live a glamorous life of travel and parties.

    When my children were young, George came to visit and charmed them with a toy that he balanced on his nose and I got to see as an adult how good he was with children. In 1990, when my children were 6 and 10, we stayed with George and Anne for a week. They had a lap pool and a hot tub and we had a fantastic visit. George was a wonderful uncle and great uncle. We were so lucky so have had him in our lives.

  9. George Bunn’s refusal to go to Harvard Law School

    George told this story at Roger S. Foster, Sr.’s memorial gathering in 1990. RSF Sr. was my father and George’s uncle, the brother of his mother Harriet Foster Bunn. I retell this story as a reflection of the humble side of two very capable and accomplished men. I do not believe anyone in my immediate family knew this story before RSF Sr.’s death, including his wife, my mother. I presume that George heard the story from his father, Robert Bunn. George repeated the story to me several times in the years after my father’s memorial service.

    George stated that his first problem with Harvard Law School was that his father had gone to Harvard Law and had obtained the highest grades ever. That distinction stood for several years until RSF Sr. came along and obtained even higher grades. George said that this combination of accomplishments was more than he wanted to deal with, but there was more to the story that he did not believe was known to RSF Sr.’s family. As top student in his class at Harvard Law RSF Sr. was given the invitation to be a clerk for the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, which he quietly declined. His mother, a recent widow, wanted him to return home to be near her. RSF, Sr. never told her what he was giving up to comply with her wish, nor did he ever mention it in later years. He practiced law in Minnesota for several years before returning to Harvard Law on the faculty.

    My father and George were great friends and saw each other frequently when they were both working in Washington DC. I was a high school student in the early 1950’s, so while George was my cousin, he was a friendly, but highly respected adult that I regarded as of a more senior generation. I occasionally served as a baby sitter for George’s children.

    A little over ten years ago, half a century later, I had the privilege of getting to know George better. Together with my sister, Jane, and Jane’s daughter, Harriet, we attended a music camp in Canada for several summers, where we could share George’s enthusiasm as we played together in chamber music groups, sang in the chorus and shared many meals. George, then in his 70’s, started each day with a swim across the lake and back. George had a great zest for life that was a delightful balance to his vast professional accomplishments.

    Roger Foster, Jr.

  10. One of my favorite memories of George is how he always came to the CISAC holiday party, dressed up with his tartan Black Watch vest and red bow tie. He always brought his flute and would alternate between playing it and singing when volunteers would gather to perform Christmas carols and hymns in front of the fire. It was quite a diverse and distinguished international group. I recall one year in which we had an Israeli political scientist playing the piano, a future U.S. assistant secretary of defense with his cello, a Canadian game theorist playing the concertina, and George and a Chinese general harmonizing on the hymns. Now that was international cooperation at its best.

  11. I fondly remember George as one of my favorite relatives. The things that stick with me most about George are his loud yodel, his various silver and turquoise belt buckles, his enthusiasm for living, and his generous spirit.

    George and I would frequently travel to summer music camp in Canada together, and he inspired me to swim across the lake and back each morning. I figured if a guy old enough to be my grandfather could do it, why couldn’t I do it as well? He heartily cheered me on.

    Eventually, life brought me out to Northern California, where I was lucky enough to see George more often. We would frequently meet with my sister Marion, and with George’s daughter Jessie for dinner. It was always fun watching George at dinnertime because that man LOVED to eat! He attacked his dinner plate with the same enthusiasm that he had for playing the flute, hiking, and swimming. Although I don’t know much about his work in the world, I am sure he took on all his challenges with that same attitude. I hope to carry a little of his zest for life with me as I go through the years.

    I will miss George dearly, but I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with him these past ten years. It’s been especially wonderful to see George interact with my young daughter Zoey. Even as he was starting to lose his ability to function well at Stanford, George still did a great job reading a book to little Zoey. She will always remember her older cousin George, as will we all. Thank you George, for bringing more peace and joy to this earth.

  12. A project for a history graduate student…

    The one aspect of George’s career that I wish there were still living witnesses to discuss is the origins of the U.S. government decision to abandon the Multilateral Force (MLF) and go for a Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In the early 1960s, the Secretary of State was strongly in favor of the MLF and against an NPT; the Secretary of Defense, if memory serves, was neutral; and the National Security Advisor (Bundy) was leaning toward the Secretary of State. In other words, no senior national security official of the U.S. government was really supporting an NPT. A small group who DID believe in an NPT, who I believe called themselves the “Saturday morning cabal,” would meet at Adrian “Butch” Fisher’s house on Saturday mornings to plot strategy for how they were going to turn the government’s policy around. This included Butch Fisher, George, Spurgeon Keeny, and a couple of others (I don’t know who the others were). I believe they may have been the ones who thought of organizing the Gilpatric Commission — the first major commission saying proliferation was a dire threat to U.S. security (though Kennedy had already said so well before), which called for negotiation of an NPT. They leaked information to Congress (especially Humphrey, with whom George was close) and the press, and did various other unauthorized things. Ultimately they (along, of course, with major international events like the Chinese nuclear test in 1964) managed to create pressures that changed the U.S. government’s view. It’s quite possible there wouldn’t have been an NPT without them. But since I don’t think they kept any records, being an unauthorized cabal, it’s likely this history will never be written… If anyone has seen any histories, oral histories, or documents that mention this group, I’d love to see them. George’s book Arms Control By Committee mentions a “cabal” a couple of times, but does not provide any detail.

  13. Another aspect to George was that he was an excellent flute player. I had the pleasure of coaching and playing chamber music with George over a period of many summers at CAMMAC, a music camp for amateur musicians of all ages in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, Canada. George was always humble about his talents, and in later years could not be persuaded from volunteering to play in less advanced groups than he might have. He never wished to get in the way of more virtuosic players. He loved music of all kinds and enjoyed talking and discussing musical legends whose concerts he attended or recordings that he enjoyed. At CAMMAC he seemed to enjoy nature, music and the company of musicians in equal measure. He enjoyed simple melodies well-played, and was always striving to improve his technique and tone on the flute. I will treasure the time we spent playing Haydn duets and trios together in the rustic cabins in the woods.

  14. The memorial service last month was a wonderful event. Thanks to everyone who took part! It was a nice mix of professional colleagues; family; friends from Webster House; friends from church; and friends from the world of music. I think everyone who was there learned something about George that they didn’t know before. There is an audio recording of the entire service; if you would like a copy, drop me an e-mail at matthew_bunn@harvard.edu.

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