Robert E. Fritts, 81, former US ambassador who observed Nelson Mandela’s election in Africa is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Robert E. Fritts
Robert E. Fritts

Former U.S. Ambassador Robert E. Fritts died on Sept. 28, 2015, at the age of 81. He had lived in the Williamsburg area since 1991.

Born in Oak Park, Illinois and with a University of Michigan degree, he served as a U.S. Navy officer on destroyers before entering the U.S. Foreign Service in 1959. Initial overseas posts included American embassies in Luxembourg, Japan, Indonesia and the Sudan. In 1973, he arrived at Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, coincident with the assassinations of the U.S. ambassador and his deputy.

In 1974 at age 39, he became the then-youngest ambassador in the history of the Foreign Service when assigned to Rwanda, a record he wryly recalled “lasted about six months.” He later served as the U.S. ambassador to Ghana during a period of fluctuating bilateral relations. Other state department policy positions included principal deputy assistant secretary of state and deputy inspector general.

Following retirement in 1991, he joined the faculty of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. He was also a senior fellow with the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk and an occasional UN observer of elections in Africa, including that of Nelson Mandela. In later years, he and his wife Audrey both lectured on cruise ships.

He served on the boards of a number of civic and foreign policy organizations in Williamsburg and Hampton Roads, including the W&M Reves Center of International Studies, the W&M Jefferson Program in Public Policy, the Middle Plantation Club, the Williamsburg Symphonia, the Williamsburg Choral Guild and the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads. He was also a member of the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs and the American Foreign Service Association in Washington, D.C.

He had a keen interest in history and loved choral music. He was a still water canoeist, freshwater fisherman and a tennis and golf enthusiast.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Audrey, of whom he often said that he was “unfailingly supported through her knowledge, charm and courage”; daughters, Susan Herzog (Charles), of South Salem, New York and Robin Long (Bob), of Flagstaff, Arizona; and grandchildren, Leigh, Callum, Zachary and Matthew.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Oct. 10, 2015, at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, 215 Richmond Road, Williamsburg.

Memorial donations may be made to the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church designated for the Chancel Choir or to the International Rescue Committee or other international refugee relief organization.

Please leave online condolences for the family at Nelsen Funeral Home.

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