William Kennedy Cromwell III
William Kennedy Cromwell III

W. Kennedy Cromwell III, a retired foreign service officer who spent the majority of his 32-year career in Africa, died Dec. 13 from complications of a stroke at the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville.

The former Washington and Annapolis resident was 88.

The son of a stockbroker and a homemaker, William Kennedy Cromwell III — he never used his first name, family members said — was born in Baltimore and raised on Brightside Road in Ruxton.

He was also descended from Oliver Cromwell, the English political figure who was lord protector of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland from 1653 to 1658.

After graduating from Gilman School in 1942, Mr. Cromwell attended Princeton for a year before being inducted into the Army in 1943.

He attended the University of Minnesota Meteorology School. He had been promised a position in the Army Air Corps as a meteorology cadet, but had to drop out because of poor eyesight.

Mr. Cromwell was later sent to the infantry, where he was trained as a tanker, and then returned to Minnesota where he worked at Fort Snelling with interned Japanese-Americans. He ended the war serving as a navigator, because he had sailing experience, aboard an Army transport in the Pacific theater.

At the end of World War II, Mr. Cromwell took the Foreign Service Exam, which he passed, and then enrolled at Iowa's Grinnell College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1948 in political science and philosophy.

The next year, he earned a master's degree in international affairs from the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University in Washington.

He joined the State Department in 1949 and began his career in Portugal, where he held a diplomatic post. By the late 1950s, he had served as secretary of the Embassy at Lisbon and consul in Nigeria and Angola.

In the mid-1960s in Uganda, Mr. Cromwell assisted the U.S. and Ugandan government's transition from Uganda's status as a British colony to an independent country. He became acquainted with then-Army chief Idi Amin, who later became Ugandan dictator.

Mr. Cromwell and his family had settled into a home in Kampala when his wife excitedly called him at the office after she noticed three machine guns pointed at their house.

"He went over to the house and was surprised when Amin opened the door," said a son, Francis M. Cromwell of Olney, a senior health policy analyst. "He told him, 'My wife noticed machine guns aimed at our house,' and Amin said, 'They must have been left by my predecessor' and had them removed."

Mr. Cromwell said his father would often go drinking with the man who later would became a notorious dictator.

"He always accused my father of trying to get him drunk, which he was," his son said.

From 1970 to 1971, Mr. Cromwell was charge d'affaires in Gaborone, Botswana, with oversight responsibilities for the embassies in Lesotho and Swaziland.

"As deputy chief of mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, from 1972 to 1974, he met with George H. W. Bush, who was then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and many heads of state during the Organization of African Unity meeting in 1974," his son said.

"It was during that meeting that he also had a private meeting with President Gaafar Nimeiry of Sudan to discuss how to better combat terrorism in that country, since the Palestine Liberation Organization extremist group Black September had taken credit in March 1973 for assassinating the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, George Curtis Moore,after taking him and 10 others hostage," said his son.

Mr. Cromwell received a death threat from Black September in 1974.

"For a month or so, while we were in Somalia, we had protection 24/7," his son said.

Mr. Cromwell ended his diplomatic career in 1980 as foreign affairs officer to the Coast Guard, where he negotiated fishing rights between the U.S. and Cuba.

He also helped negotiate and strengthen numerous drug interdiction and search and rescue agreements with many countries throughout Asia and Latin America.

Mr. Cromwell received the Coast Guard's Distinguished Public Service Award and the Superior Honor Award from the State Department.

Mr. Cromwell, who had lived at Fairhaven for the past decade, was a former member of the L'Hirondelle Club in Ruxton. He was also an avid Chesapeake Bay sailor and collector of coins and stamps.

His wife of 25 years, the former Ceceile Murphy, who had been assistant to the director of the Stanford University Law School and had been with the Departments of State and Justice, died in 1983.

A memorial service for Mr. Cromwell will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 11 in the chapel at Fairhaven, 7200 Third Ave., Sykesville.

In addition to his son, Mr. Cromwell is survived by another son, William K. Cromwell IV of Alexandria, Va.; a brother, Irwin D. Cromwell of Santa Fe, N.M.; two sisters, Margaret Taliaferro of Cockeysville and Sally Benoist of Paris; and two grandchildren.