Retired diplomat and SMU vice president Richard Rubottom dies

R. Richard Rubottom Jr., who had a distinguished career in the Foreign Service and higher education, died December 6 in Austin, Texas, at the age of 98.

            R. Richard Rubottom Jr., who had a distinguished career in the Foreign Service and higher education, died December 6 in Austin, Texas, at the age of 98.

            Ambassador Rubottom’s lengthy career included leadership positions with Southern Methodist University, the U.S. Department of State, University of the Americas and the City of Dallas.

            Two gatherings to celebrate his life are scheduled.  An informal reception will be held from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, December 12, at the Summit Lakeway Health Center in Austin.  A memorial service and reception will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, January 15, 2011, in Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.

            “In addition to serving his nation as a distinguished public servant, Richard Rubottom contributed greatly to the progress of SMU as an outstanding professor, scholar and administrator,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Through his leadership in foreign affairs in a changing global environment, he brought unique perspectives to his teaching and scholarship. His impact has been felt by generations of students and academic colleagues.”

            Rubottom was born in Brownwood, Texas, in 1912. He earned B.S. and M.A. degrees from SMU in 1932 and 1933.  After leaving SMU, he studied Latin American relations at the University of Texas while employed as an assistant dean of students.  It was in Austin that he met and married Billy Ruth Young of Corsicana, Texas.  He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941. With positions in Naval Intelligence at posts in Mexico and Paraguay, he rose to the rank of Commander in the Navy during World War II, serving until 1946.

            Following his military service, Rubottom joined the U.S. Department of State, where he served until 1964. He held several State Department posts in Latin America and Spain. As a junior Foreign Service officer he attended the first meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Bogotá, Colombia, and later served as the Director of the Economic Mission in Madrid, Spain.  He returned to Washington first as Deputy, then as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs from 1956-60 with responsibilities including Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.  He served as U.S. Ambassador to Argentina from 1960-61. He concluded his Foreign Service career at the rank of Career Minister as State Department adviser to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

            Following his career with the U.S. Department of State, Rubottom embarked on a second career in higher education at the age of 52. He returned to his alma mater SMU in 1964 as vice president for university life, later serving as administrative vice president and vice president for planning. In 1971 he left SMU to combine his interests in Latin America and higher education as president of the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico. He returned to SMU in 1973 as a professor of political science and scholar-in-residence. He was named professor emeritus in 1975.

            Even after his retirement from SMU, Rubottom remained active in diplomacy and civic responsibilities. In 1985 he was enlisted by the City of Dallas to serve as director of the Dallas Office of International Affairs, a post he held for two years.

            Rubottom served on the Texas Committee of The Campaign for SMU, 1997 to 2002. He provided support for a variety of academic programs and student scholarships at SMU.

            “Dick Rubottom was a person of poise, very wide experience, warm humanity and singular decency,” said SMU Provost Emeritus James E. Brooks. “Through his long life he served the United States of America, Southern Methodist University, the Boy Scouts of America, the City of Dallas and his family and friends with effectiveness and warmth. He was the personification of grace and integrity and contributed effectively to the many activities of which he was a part.”

            He was twice president of the Downtown Dallas Rotary Club and served on the national and international boards of the Boy Scouts of America. He was a lay leader and member of the Administrative Board of the Highland Park United Methodist Church, serving as president in 1992. He was on the Executive Committee and Educational Foundation Board of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. 

            Through the years, he gave lectures and classes on Latin American affairs in the United States, Latin America and Europe. He consulted with state officials and policymakers over several decades.

            His honors include the Superior Service Award from the U.S. Department of State, Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America, the Order of Achievement award from Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, the SMU Distinguished Alumni Award, H. Neil Mallon Award for Distinguished Civic Service from the Dallas Council on World Affairs and honorary doctorates from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, and Central Methodist College in Fayette, Missouri

            Rubottom was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 69 years, Billy Ruth Young Rubottom.  He is survived by his daughter and her husband, Eleanor and Allan Odden, of Madison, Wisconsin; his son Frank Richard Rubottom of Houston, Texas; and his son and wife John William and Angie Rubottom of Austin, Texas. He is also survived by a granddaughter and her husband, Sarina Odden and Brett Meyer, and great-grandson Micah; grandson Robert Allan Odden; grandson and wife John W. “Jay” and Suzanna Rubottom; and granddaughter, Taylor Elizabeth Rubottom.

            In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to support the Rubottom Foreign Service Scholarship, Southern Methodist University (Development Office), Dallas; Boy Scouts of America, Circle 10 Council, Dallas; Community Ministries, Highland Park United Methodist Church, Dallas; Downtown Dallas Rotary Club; or Lambda Chi Alpha Educational Foundation, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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