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George P. Shultz (1920–2021), U.S. Secretary of State under Reagan

by Linnea Crowther

George P. Shultz was the U.S. Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), shaping foreign policy during the Cold War.

Career in government

Shultz began his governmental career under President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969), working as a staff economist on the Council of Economic Advisers. He became part of President Richard M. Nixon’s (1913–1994) cabinet in 1969, when he was named Secretary of Labor. Nixon later named him Director of the Office of Management and Budget in 1970, and Secretary of the Treasury in 1972. Shultz joined Reagan’s cabinet as Secretary of State in 1982, making him one of only two people in U.S. history who have held four different cabinet-level positions.

Secretary of State

When Shultz was named Secretary of State, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were deeply at odds. Nuclear war was widely feared as the two superpowers followed their policies of mutually assured destruction. Shultz offered thoughtful input to Reagan and his Soviet counterparts that helped the two nations back down from near the brink of war, presenting a path to the eventual end of the Cold War. Shultz was also instrumental in the transition of power in the Philippines from dictator Ferdinand Marcos (1915–1989) to the democratically-elected Corazon Aquino (1933–2009) in 1986.

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Notable quote

“I’m struck that there is one lesson I learned early and then relearned over and over: Trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details.” —from a 2020 essay for the Washington Post

Tributes to George P. Shultz

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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