- From The Washington Post, Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Eclectic Author Edgar Applewhite Dies
By JOE HOLLEY
Washington Post Staff Writer
Edgar Jarratt Applewhite, 85, a protege of the philosopher-inventor R.
Buckminster Fuller, a retired Central Intelligence Agency officer and a writer,
ruminator and cataloguer of broadly eclectic information, died Feb. 10 of multiple
myeloma at his home in Georgetown. He had lived in Washington since 1947.
A self-professed "layman in a community of professionals," Mr. Applewhite
told friends that his proudest achievements over the years, next to persuading
his wife to marry him, were that he had never changed a tire or a diaper, had
never boiled an egg and had never consulted a psychiatrist.
In a note delivered to The Washington Post a few weeks before his death
(headlined "Northwest Resident Succumbs"), he reported that he was not a member of
the Metropolitan, Cosmos or Chevy Chase clubs.
He was a writer. An amateur in the literal sense of the world, he was a wry,
erudite man who loved meandering into the wilderness of issues and ideas that
intrigued him, collecting volumes of information and then synthesizing the
information into a book.
His books include "Cosmic Fishing" (1977), a memoir of his collaboration with
Fuller on the inventor's multi-volume magnum opus on synergetic geometry;
"Washington Itself' (1981), an informal guide to the city that was his home for
more than 50 years; and "Paradise Mislaid: Birth, Death and the Human
Predicament of Being Biological" (1991).
In a 1991 profile in the Washington City Paper, Mr. Applewhite labeled
himself a "taxophilist," a collector and classifier of thoughts, interests and
obsessions that he kept in hundreds of neatly titled manila folders filed in
several rooms of his Georgetown apartment.
His interests, he told The Post, "were urban, if not urbane"; he described
himself as "a lover of the great indoors."
Mr. Applewhite was born in Newport News, Va. With his dentist father
struggling to support the family during the Depression, he left home to live for a
year with an older sister who had married the owner of a plantation in Tahiti.
Living was cheaper in Tahiti.
Returning from the South Pacific, he enrolled at Yale University and received
an undergraduate degree in philosophy in 1941. He skipped his graduation
ceremony and joined the Navy, where he served aboard the USS Belleau Wood and
worked at codebreaking.
He joined up with Fuller after his discharge in 1946. The eccentric inventor
had just established a company called Dymaxion Dwelling Machines Inc.,
intending to build simple, mass-produced housing. Despite interest from the media and
Wall Street, Fuller couldn't get financial backing for his "dwelling
machines," so he began designing the geodesic dome.
Mr. Applewhite began a career in the CIA. He yearned to travel, and the only
way he could afford his globe-trotting was to find someone who would pay him
for it. He considered working for the State Department or for an oil company,
but the CIA sounded more interesting.
After sifting intelligence for two decades, in Germany, Lebanon and
elsewhere, he said he never regretted his decision to join the agency. Though one of
his daughters recalled being disappointed that her father wasn't a gun-toting
James Bond, he did supervise a clandestine tunnel project in Berlin in 1955 that
tapped into Soviet military communications being transmitted along
His career culminated as chief of the inspection staff and deputy inspector
general. In his letter to The Post, he wrote that his "commitment to the
organization became more tenuous as the Cold War thawed."
He served briefly as assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and
retired in 1970. He was awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit.
His tenure with the CIA not only gave him a ticket to see the world, but also
provided him a pension, which allowed him to indulge his writing bent. His
first task was to help old friend Fuller communicate to a wider public his
abstruse notions about the geometric makeup of the universe.
"I worked with Fuller because he was making these remarkable series of
assertions, and people were doubting them," Mr. Applewhite explained in the City
Paper profile. "He preferred to do like all great teachers, have his students
sitting under a tree and he lectures them like yogis. And I wanted to get his
whole theory between covers, so that it would be available for critiquing."
Fuller, quoted in "Cosmic Fishing," described the process this way: "Sonny
Applewhite and I meet deliberately and premeditately, and thereafter find
ourselves spontaneously, inadvertently hauling in word-netted shoals (schools of
cosmic fish, i.e., epistemological pisces)."
The result of the nine-year collaboration was Fuller's "Synergetics:
Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking" (1975) and "Synergetics 2" (1979).
Later, Mr. Applewhite wrote "Washington Itself," an anecdotal and irreverent
tour of the city that holds up well 25 years after it was written. The
paperback version is still in print.
Mr. Applewhite's final book, "Paradise Mislaid," is also a guidebook - to
nothing less than the meaning of life as perceived by biologists and other
scientific explorers. Ever the amateur, albeit an impressively well-informed one, he
spent five years as "a wandering minstrel among the learned journals of
science foraging for an insight to the processes of our mortality."
His conclusion: "If immortality has some cosmic niche, it is not within the
grasp of the individual nor is it within the province of the species; and even
the evolutionary process itself is, as far as we know, finite."
Mr. Applewhite's wife, Joyce Zinsser Applewhite, died in 1996.
Survivors include four children, Jarratt Applewhite of Santa Fe, N.M., Ashton
Applewhite of New York City, Maria Applewhite of Cleveland and Anthony
Applewhite of Atherton, Calif.; 11 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren.
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