Following the passing of Ash Carter (1954-2022), Belfer Professor of Technology and Global Affairs, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and former U.S. secretary of defense, hundreds of tributes came in from all over the world. Here are a few reflections from the Kennedy School community and beyond. 

“Ash Carter was a true patriot. His counsel and service shaped America as we know it today—and made America better for all Americans. Losing him will have profound effects on Harvard Kennedy School and on the University, but it is our nation that has suffered the greater loss. We will do our best to honor Ash by remembering his commitment to democracy and by working together toward a more perfect union.” 

Larry Bacow, Harvard University President 

“His public contributions were amplified by his many years at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where he inspired and mentored the next generation of national security leaders. As President, I continued to rely on his expertise through his presence on my Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.”

President Joe Biden, Presidential Statement

President Barack Obama talks with Defense Secretary Ash Carter during a meeting with the National Security Council.

“Today we mourn the passing of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and celebrate a leader who left America—and the world—safer through his lifetime of service. Michelle and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to Ash’s wife, children, and all those who loved him.” 

Barack Obama, former U.S. President 

“I want to offer my gratitude for his insight and wisdom, his unwavering commitment to trying to make the world better, his confidence that the Kennedy School can make an important difference in the world, his generous spirit toward his students and colleagues, and his warm and gracious friendship with me. I will miss him so much.” 

Doug Elmendorf, Dean, HKS  (Read Dean Elmendorf's full statement)

Graham Allison and Ash Carter sit together smiling.

“We grieve the loss of a great colleague and friend. So many things can be said about this remarkable human being. Here at HKS and the Belfer Center, I believe that Ash was the best exemplar of what we aspire to for our faculty, fellows, and students. He was an individual first and foremost committed to public service, to making a difference in making the world a safer place. He fulfilled that commitment by: advancing knowledge about the most important challenges—and what to do about them; serving in government when he had an opportunity—indeed at every level of the Department of Defense from Consultant to Assistant Secretary to Undersecretary to Deputy Secretary, and finally, Secretary of Defense; and preparing the next generation of students and fellows for leadership in government.

Yesterday, Ash chaired a Belfer Center Director’s lunch for Kurt Campbell. He introduced Kurt with enthusiasm as an example of what The Belfer Center aspires to. As Ash told the story, Kurt showed up as a post-doc squeezed into a small office with Jim Miller (another Belferite who went on to be the Undersecretary of Policy at Defense); produced several significant studies including a chapter in Fateful Visions that explored the possibility that the Soviet Union could collapse, risking the loss of control of thousands of nuclear weapons; left us to launch a joint venture with Michèle Flournoy (another former Belfer Fellow) to create a major Washington think tank, CNAS (the Center for a New American Security); served as Assistant Secretary of State where he was a major impetus in Obama’s announcement of the “pivot” to Asia; created The Asia Group, a major advisory on developments in Asia; and now serves as Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, leading the Biden administration’s policy towards China and the Indo-Pacific.

At one o’clock, Ash turned to me and said “I have to go teach my class so you run the rest of the session.” With a twinkle in his eye, he ran to class where the topic of the day was cloning, CRISPR, and the implications for human life. In the afternoon, he met with students and fellows working on his Technology and Public Purpose Project. And he was preparing to go to Washington tomorrow for a meeting at the White House on supply chains.

What an amazing human being. His departure has left a big hole in our minds and in our hearts.” 

Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government

“The news is devastating.  I had a wonderful conversation with Ash at the dedication ceremony for the Graham T. Allison Plaza. He had agreed to join Joe Nye, myself and others for our Doyukai Symposium this Friday and, as always, was eager to share his insights. He was a large and positive presence at the Kennedy School, Harvard, and in our country.  We are all fortunate to have known and learned from him.” 

Roger Porter, IBM Professor of Business and Government, HKS 

“Ash has, from his first day back on campus in 2017, been a true friend, supporter and advocate for SEAS. My personal connections with Ash run further back to the days when he was in DOD and I ran one of the Army UARCs at UCSB. It was abundantly clear at that time that his knowledge and acumen on a range of technological issues ran broad and deep. 

I count myself blessed to have enjoyed a partnership with Ash over these years, and I can't imagine how we’ll go forward in his absence. But I know he would absolutely want us to continue on with the exciting projects and initiatives that he helped create between HKS and SEAS.” 

Frank Doyle, Dean, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS)

 Ash Carter speaks with students after class in a hallway at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“This is so terribly tragic—a massive loss to the country and the HKS community. Secretary Carter was a remarkable professor and public servant. May we honor his legacy of service by emulating the values he espoused.” 

Crystal Rugege MC/MPA ’23 

“Rest in peace Ash Carter—colleague, friend, patriot, national leader. Along with the national security community, his Kennedy School and Belfer Center colleagues and students, I will miss Ash’s wisdom, dedication, and his leadership for our country. This is a very sad day.”  

Larry Summers, Frank and Denie Weil Director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Charles W. Eliot University Professor, HKS 

“Devastating news about the death of Ash Carter. As secretary of defense, longtime public servant, physicist, and Harvard scholar, he dedicated his life to our country.  I will miss my friend of three decades.” 

Nicholas Burns, U.S. Ambassador to China 

“Equal parts shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of Ash Carter, the 25th secretary of defense, head of Belfer Center, and simply one of the smartest and most thoughtful people I have been fortunate enough to know. A good friend for four decades. May his memory always be for a blessing.” 

Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations  

“Terribly saddened to hear that Ash Carter passed away. He was a dedicated public servant, from reducing the threat that nuclear weapons pose to humanity to a stellar career at DoD and the Harvard Kennedy School. He will be missed.” 

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein  

“Devastated by the passing of my friend and close colleague Ash Carter. An epic public servant who dedicated his life to making our country safer, he also inspired the next generation at the Kennedy School and the Belfer Center to tackle the world’s hardest problems. An immeasurable loss.” 

Samantha Power, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development 

Photo of Ash Carter teaching in 1985.

“He has been a friend, mentor, colleague, mutual dog enthusiast and a ‘come walk with me’ ally for 25 years. I will say no more except it was the honor of a lifetime to have been so lucky.” 

Juliette Kayyem, Belfer Senior Lecturer in International Security, HKS 

“We are grieving the profound loss of Ash here at the Center.” 

Lauren Zabierek, Executive Director, Cyber Project, HKS 

“I primarily knew Secretary Carter as a senior colleague who drew me into the Belfer Center community, helped provide me with critical resources at a critical phase in my career, and who was always ready with a word of encouragement, a smile, and a pat on the back. He was a gentleman of the old school, with all that the term implies of generosity, collegiality, and general benevolence. I speak on behalf of all of the members of the Middle East Initiative community when I say that I am fortunate to have known him. May our ongoing work be a testament to his commitment to bridging the worlds of scholarship and action.”  

Tarek Masoud, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance, HKS 

“Ash Carter was a giant, a man whose contributions to U.S. and world security were huge and long-lasting. One key example was the Nunn-Lugar program: Ash helped conceive the radical idea that the former nuclear enemies should cooperate to dismantle and secure the nuclear, chemical, and biological legacies of the Cold War. He helped draft the legislation, and then, as assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton years, helped implement that effort. As a result, we ended up with one nuclear power coming from the Soviet Union rather than many, thousands of nuclear weapons retired from missiles, hundreds of missiles, bombers, and submarines destroyed, thousands of tons of chemical weapons eliminated, new security measures put in place for nuclear, chemical, and biological stockpiles, and more. The world is immeasurably safer as a result.”

Matthew Bunn, James R. Schlesinger Professor of the Practice of Energy, National Security, and Foreign Policy, HKS

“Secretary Ash Carter was a great leader and his service to our country was invaluable. I’m thinking of his family and loved ones today.”

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar

“Ash Carter was a friend of many years, an esteemed colleague, and a patriot who served this nation with distinction. His dedication, extraordinary skill, and intellect were his hallmarks and his loss is a great one that will be felt by many. Rest in peace my dear friend.”

Condoleezza Rice, Director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the untimely passing of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. The Department of Defense mourns the loss of a great patriot who devoted his life to strengthening the security of the country that he loved.”

Lloyd J. Austin III, U.S. Secretary of Defense

“America has lost one of its most dedicated national security leaders and public servants, with the sudden passing of Ash Carter. His innovative leadership made the Department of Defense stronger and our nation safer. We will miss him.”

Mike Bloomberg, Entrepreneur and Former three-term mayor of New York City

Ash Carter with a group of students.

“As a student at the Kennedy School, Ash Carter mentored me for a career in national security. A decade later in the Pentagon, as his chief of staff, Ash demonstrated to me why we need principled, indefatigable leaders who take on the toughest issues to keep America inclusive and strong. Back at the Kennedy School, he made me realize that people who both teach the next generation and lead the current one are truly unique. Ash was one of a kind, and I will miss him dearly.”

Eric Rosenbach, co-director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

“He was brilliant, bi-partisan, and a true public servant. At Harvard, he brought diverse communities together. We’ve lost someone remarkable.”

Rakesh Khurana, dean, Harvard College

“I have lost a dear friend of more than four decades. Ash was of course a man of enormous intellect and huge commitment to public service. But he was also a great person, a great colleague, kind, decent, and caring. His leadership made possible our influential work on the fate of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union as it disintegrated—work that he carried into the realm of policy when he first went into the Department of Defense several decades ago. Ash was the very epitome of the kind of public servant this country needs: thoughtful, honest, full of integrity, and above all giving privilege to the best interests of the country.”

Steven Miller, director, International Security Program at the Belfer Center

“No words can explain what kind of human, public servant, mentor, teacher, & friend Ash Carter was. Not only was he one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but he was also a warm & deeply caring person that I was lucky to get to know as we built the TAPP Project at Belfer Center.”

Laura Manley, Former Director, Technology and Public Purpose Project

“Shocked and very saddened by the passing of my colleague Ash Carter. A great academic, civil servant and thought leader. A huge loss.”

Ricardo Hausmann, Rafik Hariri Professor of the Practice of International Political Economy, HKS

Ash Carter sitting on the Forum stage during President Zelenskyy address.

“Ash was a brilliant, conceptual thinker, an inspiring teacher, and a devoted mentor to generations of students and fellows at Harvard. He was a dynamic and effective leader in government, who shaped an extraordinary range of national defense and international security policies and programs. It was an honor to work with him at HKS and in government. Ash’s career was the embodiment of the goals of the founders of the Belfer Center five decades ago, and he leaves a lasting legacy.”

Stephen J. Flanagan, former Executive Director and Fellow, Belfer Center

“My acquaintance with Ash spanned four decades. Over that period, he and I interacted extensively in the context of many of his roles and many of mine, including 13 years in adjacent offices at the Belfer Center.

Among other early memories, I recall his producing, from a perch at MIT in the early 1980s, a commissioned report for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment showing that President Reagan’s “Star Wars” scheme for protecting the United States against Soviet ICBMs would not work. OTA paid Ash $20,000 to do the report; the US Air Force spent $500,000 trying to discredit his analysis…and failed. As a leader at the time of the Federation of American Scientists and the US Pugwash Group, both of which were strong critics of “Star Wars”, I couldn’t have been more delighted with young Ash’s scientific rout of the powers that were.

Much later, Ash’s stints as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and then as Deputy Secretary of Defense took place during my service as the Science Advisor to President Obama, and we were in close touch about many topics where our responsibilities intersected. When Ash resigned from the Deputy Secretary post in December 2013, I sent him an email saying I looked forward to welcoming him back soon as Secretary; that happened 14 months later.

It’s of course impossible, in a short note, to do justice to all that Ash was and did…as scholar, policy analyst, teacher, mentor, builder and leader of institutions, visionary, and pillar of commitment to a better world. Suffice it to say here that he will be sorely missed in all these roles, as well as in the other roles he fulfilled so well—husband, father, and friend.”

John Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Research Professor of Environmental Policy, HKS

“It was a personal honor to take Secretary Ash Carter's (last) class this semester on Solving Tech’s Public Dilemmas, and was shocked to hear the news of his passing away on Monday. At least for me, he will be remembered as my favorite professor who taught us with a rare and enjoyable mix of intellect, wisdom and humor. I know that many other current and previous students feel the same way.”

Sam Yoon, Kennedy School Student Government President

Photographs by Jessica Scranton, Martha Stewart, and AP Photo/Evan Vucci

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