WASHINGTON -- The only career foreign service officer to rise to the position of secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger was a straightforward diplomat whose exuberant style masked a hard-driving commitment to solving tangled foreign policy problems.
"As good as they come," recalled his immediate predecessor as America's top diplomat.
Eagleburger, who died yesterday at age 80, held the job late in George H.W. Bush's presidency, culminating a distinguished diplomatic career.
Over 27 years in the foreign service, he served in the Nixon administration as executive assistant to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, as President Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Yugoslavia, and as an assistant secretary of state and then undersecretary of state in the first Reagan administration.
Eagleburger died in Charlottesville, Va., after a short illness, according to a family friend, Christy Reap. No further details were immediately available.
Tributes poured in immediately, including from two of his onetime bosses, Bush and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
Eagleburger held the top post at the State Department for five months when Baker resigned in the summer of 1992 to help Bush in an unsuccessful bid for re-election.
As Baker's deputy, Eagleburger had taken on a variety of difficult assignments, such as running the department bureaucracy when Baker was abroad.
Eagleburger told The Associated Press in 1990 that he operated "sort of by osmosis. You get a feel how he [Baker] would react to a situation."
He did not fit the image of the office. He was hugely overweight. He chain-smoked cigarettes, sometimes with an aspirator to ease chronic asthma. He was afflicted with a muscle disease.
Born Aug. 1, 1930, in Milwaukee, Eagleburger graduated from the University of Wisconsin. He grew up in a Republican family, once telling a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal that "my father was somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan." Eagleburger remained a Republican, but of a more moderate stripe.
Bush called Eagleburger "one of the most capable and respected diplomats our foreign service ever produced, and I will be ever grateful for his wise, no-nonsense counsel during those four years of historic change in our world."
Baker said Eagleburger "was a legend in the U.S. Foreign Service, a consummate professional who served his country expertly and with great dignity as a selfless diplomat."
Eagleburger named each of his three sons Lawrence -- they use their middle names Scott, Andrew and Jason.
He was married to the former Marlene Ann Heinemann, who died last year. Her family was in the bakery business in Milwaukee. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.