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Hermann Eilts, professor emeritus and diplomat, dies at 84

Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt played crucial role in 1978 Camp David Summit

Hermann Eilts provided more than 50 years of service to the nation and to the cause of education. Photo by Albert L’Etoile

BU Professor Emeritus Hermann Frederick Eilts wasn’t just a witness to history — the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia (1965-1970) and to Egypt (1973-1979) was a part of history. He played a major advisory role in the 1978 Camp David Summit, where a peace accord between Israel and Egypt was signed. It was the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state.

Eilts, who as a diplomat for 32 years held posts in several embassies, died at his home in Wellesley, Mass., on October 12 after an extended illness. He was 84.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1979, Eilts was appointed a University Professor and a College of Arts and Sciences distinguished professor of international relations at BU, where he founded the Center for International Relations and became its first director. He was the first chair of the CAS department of international relations and was chair of the CAS department of political science. He became a professor emeritus in 1993.

Eilts talked about the 1978 Camp David Summit in a 2001 lecture sponsored by the International History Institute at BU. He recalled that prior to the talks, several meetings that year between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin proved fruitless and that five years after the Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab nations led by Egypt and Syria both leaders were disillusioned with the peace process. On July 30, 1978, Eilts informed President Jimmy Carter in a flash cable that a furious Sadat was at the end of his patience. Carter decided that it was time for a summit and that day invited Sadat and Begin to Camp David.

Eilts called the negotiations “a painful effort.” But after 13 fitful days, the summit ended with the signing of two agreements at the White House. The first dealt with the future of the Israeli-occupied Sinai Peninsula and peace between Israel and Egypt. Israel agreed to withdraw its settlements in Sinai. The second was a framework agreement to establish a format for the conduct of negotiations leading to the formation of an autonomous regime in the West Bank and Gaza. “In the last quarter-century,” Eilts said, “it is still the only successful major international conference which an American president presided over.”

Eilts was born in Weissenfels, Germany, and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1926. He grew up in Scranton, Pa., and became an American citizen in 1930. A graduate of Ursinus College and the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, Eilts earned the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and seven European and North African campaign stars for military service in World War II. He joined the Foreign Service in 1947. In addition to participating in the Camp David Summit, Eilts also served as a member of the U.S. delegations to the United Nations, NATO, and other international conferences. At BU, he gained a reputation for his ability to recruit outstanding scholars, teachers, and practitioners in the field of international affairs.

Eilts is survived by his wife, Helen Brew Eilts, two sons, Conrad Marshall Eilts and Frederick Lowell Eilts, and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Hospice of the Good Shepherd, 2042 Beacon St., Newton, MA 02468. To access an online memorial register, visit www.eatonfuneralhomes.com.