gatesssss.jpg
The Gateses in Agra.
The suspicion was that former U.S.Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would retire for good at his Big Lake home in Skagit

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Robert Gates, Chancellor; Ex-Defense Secretary Forgoes Retirement With Wife in Skagit County

gatesssss.jpg
The Gateses in Agra.
The suspicion was that former U.S.Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would retire for good at his Big Lake home in Skagit County once he departed D.C. in June. Skagit is where his wife of 43 years, Becky, prefers to live year-round in their home of 17 years, catching up with him on trips to D.C. and abroad (they met on a blind date and knew each other three months before marrying). At most, some felt, Gates, the ex-CIA director and Texas A&M president, might hanker for that then-open job as president of the University of Washington, despite his alliance with Washington State University, where both his wife and his son graduated and where this year he spoke to graduates from Edward R. Murrow College of Communications, named for another famous Skagitonian.

As it turned out last week, however, Gates will return to the D.C. region after the first of the year as the new chancellor at William & Mary, his alma mater (1965), and some are wondering if, rather than sitting in a rocking chair on his lake porch, he's weighing higher office. Among those preceding him in the Virginia college's chancellorship are presidents George Washington and John Tyler and, more recently, Warren Burger, Margaret Thatcher, and Henry Kissinger. Gates replaces ex-Justice Sandra O'Connor in February.

As he said in a statement, "William & Mary instills in its students a sense of duty to community and country. I look forward to doing all that I can to continue and build on these traditions." He didn't say whether his new job would include working trips up the freeway from Williamsburg to the capital, nor whether he held future political aspirations.

He's still big, even defensive, on bureaucracy, however. As he told WSU students in May, "I understand that it can be disheartening to hear today's talk of rancorous and even tawdry political discourse. Too often those who chose public service are dismissed as bureaucrats or worse." But "To serve our country you don't need to deploy to a war zone or third-world country or be buried in a windowless cube in a Gothic structure by the Potomac River." You can work helping people where you live, he said. It's the "chance to give back to the community, the state, or the country that have already given you so much."

Whatever he does, he'll be remembered as a bureaucrat who spoke with untypical candor and lack of arrogance. As he said in one of his last talks, to West Point cadets: "In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the President to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it." And as we hope Don Rumsfeld so pointedly heard it.

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