Homer Root Phelps – First Lieutenant, United States Army Foreign Service Officer

From a contemporary press report:

On January 6, 1999, HOMER ROOT PHELPS, retired Foreign Service Officer, passed away after a ten day illness resulting from a head injury on December 28, 1998. Formerly of Amsterdam, NY, Phelps was the only child of Gertrude Ferguson Phelps and Homer Root Phelps VI of New York City. Root Phelps pursued a distinguished career in the Foreign Service, serving in various consulates and embassies in Stuttgart, Warsaw, Berlin and Bonn before retiring in Bethesda, Maryland in 1985.

Root Phelps was born in New York City in 1930 and moved with his parents to Amsterdam, NY, in 1938. After four years at St. George’s Preparatory School in Rhode Island, he attended Princeton University for several years, where he was a member of the Cottage Club before joining the Army in 1953. Phelps married Sally Hurl of Amsterdam in 1954, after which he served at Rhein Main Military Base in Germany for two years. After completing his military service, he received his degree from Syracuse University.

Phelps joined the Foreign Service in 1958 with his growing family and his career spanned the entirety of the Cold War. Phelps was first transferred to Stuttgart, Germany, where he served as Vice Consul and General Services Officer. He returned to Washington, DC in 1961 to work in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) during the Cuban missile crisis. In 1963, he transferred to Warsaw, Poland to work in the Visa and Economic Sections as Vice Consul and Economic Officer. Phelps returned to Washington, DC in 1966, serving as the State Department’s Baltic Desk Officer. For his devoted efforts, the US Baltic Foundation awarded him their Public Service Leadership Award in 1996. He returned to Germany in 1970 as Berlin Mission’s Political Military Officer during the period precee ding and following the 1973 Quadripartite Agreement on the division of Berlin and the recognition of East and West Germany. As such, Phelps observed the division of the city into West and East political entities, and the continuing transition of Berlin as an occupied city. With his deft political sense and his deep understanding of German history, he helped guide the USG and the U.S. military through a very sensitive and politically charged transition.

In 1974, Phelps returned to Washington, DC to work for seven years in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). In this capacity, he served at talks in Vienna and at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTB) talks in Geneva. The Department of State Meritorious Honor award recognized the value of his experience and good judgment in developing an arms control policy for the United States.

Phelps returned to Germany in 1981 as Political Military Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Bonn, again navigating the U.S. military through politically charged times. The issue at hand was deployment of Pershing 11 intermediate range ballistic nuclear missiles. His successful work on establishing a policy on intermediate range nuclear forces earned him a second Department of State Meritorious Honor Award. For his efforts in pursuit of peace, stability and in countering the Soviet threat to Germany and the free world, Phelps was awarded Germany’s Verdienstkreuz in 1987, the highest civilian medal awarded by the FRG.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1985, Phelps remained actively engaged in events inside the Beltway and in taking pride in the achievements of his children and grandchildren. Root Phelps is greatly missed by his wife, Sally; children, Mark, Dana, Aaron, Ann and Sarah; and grandchildren, Danielle, Colette and Rebecca. His family is so grateful that his legacy continues in lasting friendships, all of whom brought so much joy to the life of this remarkable and extraordinary man. He loved his friends and family, and was always ready to entertain all with his penetrating wit, commentary, quick laugh and deep love and appreciation f history. The time we shared has been a gift, and he is remembered with love, warmth and gratitude.

Inurnment will take place at the Arlington National Cemetery Columbarium on Friday, April 9, 1999, at 2 p.m. Please assemble at the Administration Building by 1:45 p.m. Memorial contributions may be made in his name to the Class of 1948, St. George’s Preparatory School Development Office, P.O. Box 1910, Newport, RI 02840.

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