William E. Griffith '78
Professor Emeritus of Political Science William E. Griffith died Sept. 28 in Massachusetts General Hospital after suffering from a stroke. He was 78.
Griffith came to MIT in 1959 and became one of the world's foremost experts on communism in Eastern and Central Europe. At the Institute, Griffith first served as a senior research associate at the Center for International Studies and led the center's International Communist Project. In 1966, Griffith joined the faculty as a professor of Political Science. In 1972, Griffith was appointed the Ford International Professor of Political Science in 1972. He also served as an adjunct professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Griffith retired and became professor emeritus in 1990.
During his time at MIT, Griffith created a definitive body of work on communism and the politics of Eastern Europe. He wrote or edited 11 books and myriad articles on the subject. His writings, especially on the Cold War and its end, were highly respected and influential. He also wrote for Reader's Digest on international affairs and provided extensive and exciting presentations at international professional conferences.
Griffith was born on Feb. 19, 1920 in Remsen, N.Y. and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts from Hamilton College in 1940. In 1941, he received a Masters of Arts in History fromHarvard University.
Griffith's career began as a U.S. Army officer in France and Germany during World War II. Afterwards, he was the chief of the Denazification Branch of the U.S. Military Government for Bavaria in 1947 and 1948.He received the Commander's Cross of the German Order of Merit.
After returning to the United States, he completed his PhD in German History at Harvard, then returned to Europe to serve as the chief political adviser to Radio Free Europe in Munich from 1950 until 1958.
Griffith next worked outside the Institute in 1979 as an advisor to Zbigniew Brzezinski, a colleague and and President Carter's national security advisor. Griffith flew from Cambridge to Washington once a week to consult with Brzezinski. The New York Times reported a White House aide described griffith as "Zbig's idea man."
In his later years at the Institute, Griffith again turned his attention to Germany, and especially the relationship between East andWest Germany. In 1985 and 1986, he served as a senior advisor to the U.S. ambassador inBonn.
When Griffith retired, he returned to Germany and continued his research for four years.
Griffith is survived by his wife, Ingeborg, a native ofGermany, two daughters, a son, and five grandchildren. A memorial reception forGriffith was held at the faculty club last week.