With nearly a half-century of experience in foreign relations and diplomacy, W. Anthony K. Lake ’61 has visited nearly every nation in the world. Now the executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Lake has had a variety of diplomatic roles throughout his career, from serving in President Nixon’s White House to serving as National Security Advisor under President Clinton from 1993 to 1997.
Arriving on Harvard’s campus in the fall of 1957, Lake was not set on a career in diplomacy.
“I wasn’t sure, because I developed a real love in my sophomore, junior, senior year for American colonial history,” Lake recalls. “But [I] also took the foreign service exam because I was interested in American foreign policy and international relations.”
In fact, Lake’s political involvement at Harvard was fairly limited.
“I was less interested in being involved in politics on campus than in studies and sports,” Lake says.
Lake jokes that he spent much of his college career “playing a lot of sports very badly.”
In particular, Lake still vividly recalls his senior season, in which he singlehandedly cost the squash team their undefeated record, with the added humiliation of losing to Yale.
“I got [squash coach Jack Barnaby] to admit that I was the worst squash player in his time at Harvard,” Lake remembers.
“He was a very quiet contemplative sort of fellow,” says Dan L. Goldwasser ’61, who lived across the hall from Lake his freshman year. “When I saw him on television [during Lake’s years serving under Clinton], he didn’t look much different than he had when he was in college ... He was a very warm, quiet fellow.”
That characterization remains true today, his colleagues say.
“I would describe Tony as very cerebral,” says Chester A. Crocker, a colleague of Lake’s at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “He’s not a table-pounding individual. He’s very deliberate in the way he speaks and careful in the way he thinks.”
As an American history concentrator, Lake fondly remembers crossing paths with at least one notable professor who he would later work with closely.
“There were a number of wonderful historians,” Lake notes. “I also took a course from Henry Kissinger, and ironically later ended up as his special assistant in the White House.” In particular, Lake says he was motivated by John F. Kennedy’s call to public service.
Lake resigned from his position under Kissinger in 1970 shortly following the invasion of Cambodia. Noting that working in such a contentious environment could be very intense, Lake says, “Kissinger to his credit welcomed and encouraged those internal arguments.”
Lake returned to the White House during the Clinton administration to serve as National Security Advisor, playing a part in the resolution of violence in Bosnia.