NEW MEXICO (NewsNation Now) — Donald Rumsfeld, who served as defense secretary for Presidents George W. Bush and Gerald Ford, and as Ford’s chief of staff, died at the age of 88, his family announced.
“At 88, he was surrounded by his family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico,” a tweet from his official account said.
Regarded by former colleagues as equally smart and combative, patriotic and politically cunning, Rumsfeld had a storied career in government under four presidents and nearly a quarter century in corporate America.
After retiring in 2008 he headed the Rumsfeld Foundation to promote public service and to work with charities that provide services and support for military families and wounded veterans.
“Rummy,” as he was often called, was ambitious, witty, energetic, engaging and capable of great personal warmth. But he irritated many with his confrontational style. An accomplished wrestler in college, Rumsfeld relished verbal sparring and elevated it to an art form; a biting humor was a favorite weapon.
He faced criticism for the U.S. war in Iraq, and was replaced as defense secretary midway through Bush’s second term by Robert Gates.
Rumsfeld personally authorized harsh interrogation techniques for detainees. The U.S. treatment of detainees in Iraq and foreign terrorism suspects at a special prison set up under Rumsfeld at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, drew international condemnation, with human rights activists and others saying prisoners were tortured.
Former President George W Bush issued a statement on Rumsfeld’s passing stating, “A period that brought unprecedented challenges to our country and to our military also brought out the best qualities in Secretary Rumsfeld. A man of intelligence, integrity, and almost inexhaustible energy, he never paled before tough decisions, and never flinched from responsibility.”
“On the morning of September 11, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld ran to the fire at the Pentagon to assist the wounded and ensure the safety of survivors. For the next five years, he was in steady service as a wartime secretary of defense – a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honor.President George W. Bush Statement on Donald H. Rumsfeld
“A period that brought unprecedented challenges to our country and to our military also brought out the best qualities in Secretary Rumsfeld. A man of intelligence, integrity, and almost inexhaustible energy, he never paled before tough decisions, and never flinched from responsibility. He brought needed and timely reforms to the Department of Defense, along with a management style that stressed original thinking and accountability. As Commander in Chief, I especially appreciated how Don took his job personally and always looked out for the interests of our servicemen and women. He was a faithful steward of our armed forces, and the United States of America is safer and better off for his service.
“In a busy and purposeful life, Don Rumsfeld was a Naval officer, a member of Congress, a distinguished cabinet official in several administrations, a respected business leader – and, with his beloved wife, the co-founder of a charitable foundation. Later in life, he even became an app developer. All his life, he was good-humored and big-hearted, and he treasured his family above all else. Laura and I are very sorry to learn of Don’s passing, and we send our deepest sympathy to Joyce and their children. We mourn an exemplary public servant and a very good man.”
With Rumsfeld in charge, U.S. forces swiftly toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein but failed to maintain law and order in the aftermath, and Iraq descended into chaos with a bloody insurgency and violence between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. U.S. troops remained in Iraq until 2011, long after he left his post.
“Stuff happens,” he told reporters in April 2003 amid rampant lawlessness in Baghdad after U.S. troops captured the Iraqi capital.
Rumsfeld twice offered his resignation to President George W. Bush in 2004 amid disclosures that U.S. troops had abused detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison — an episode he later referred to as his darkest hour as defense secretary. Bush declined each time.
During his time away from public service, Rumsfeld became wealthy as a successful businessman, serving as chief executive of two Fortune 500 companies. In 1988, he briefly ran for the Republican U.S. presidential nomination.
“We will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country,” his family wrote.