Former Lyme resident Roger Hilsman remembered as author, statesman, with strong local involvement

Lyme - Former Lyme resident Roger Hilsman, an author, professor and assistant secretary of state under President John F. Kennedy, died last week. He was 94.

Hilsman was remembered this week as an active statesman, scholar and community member, as well as a dedicated husband, father and grandfather.

He was director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and then served as assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs under Kennedy. He continued to serve in President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration until March 1964.

Before beginning his role in government, Hilsman graduated from West Point and served in Merrill's Marauders in Burma during World War II. He earned a doctorate in international relations at Yale University.

A former professor of government at Columbia University in New York, Hilsman authored numerous books, including "The Cuban Missile Crisis: The Struggle Over Policy" and "To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy."

His 1990 memoir, "American Guerrilla: My War Behind Japanese Lines," includes how he rescued his father, Col. Roger Hilsman, from a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Mukden, China.

Giving lectures in the region and writing commentary in this newspaper and other publications, Hilsman often tackled foreign policy issues. Born in Waco, Texas, he also participated in politics in Connecticut, in Lyme, where he lived, and later in Chester.

In 1972, he ran against incumbent Robert Steele as the Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District, but did not win. Amid safety concerns over speeding in Lyme, he initiated among his Hamburg Cove neighbors a letter-writing campaign to state police in the 1990s, according to newspaper archives.

A member of the Democratic Town Committee for more than two decades, he was "instrumental in bringing people together," said former chairwoman LeRay McFarland. Hilsman helped recruit new members and persuaded McFarland to run for committee chairwoman, a position she held for 17 years. Hilsman also hosted the committee's annual fundraiser picnic at his house.

"He liked the town very much and helped illuminate what the needs were and how to resolve them," McFarland said.

Hilsman is survived by his wife, Eleanor, his daughters, Amy and Sarah, his sons, Hoyt and Ashby, and his six grandchildren.

Sarah Hilsman, his youngest daughter, said her father was equally proud to work locally as he was to be involved in international affairs. She said he always wanted to help people and to rectify the injustices he encountered. He encouraged his children to give back to their country, she said.

"He would always tell us to serve our country and citizenry in any way that we could," she said. The dedication to his "To Move a Nation" reads: "To Eleanor, especially, but also to Hoyt, Amy, Ashby, and even Sarah - none of whom ever had a chance to ask what they could do for their country, but were very quickly told."

Roger Hilsman also enjoyed life and living in Lyme, she said.

"... We are proud of his service to our nation and his courage in battle and his courage in opposing the escalation of the Vietnam War," the obituary from his family read.

"He fought in war and served in high office, yet his greatest joy was to be surrounded by our mother, the love of his life, his children and grandchildren, whether driving his tractor, cooking Chinese food or singing old family songs together."


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