Bar­bara Colby was a lead­ing ad­vo­cate for the fam­i­lies and ex-spouses of CIA em­ploy­ees.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY EMILY LANGER emily.langer@wash­

Bar­bara H. Colby once re­called turn­ing on the wash­ing ma­chine to muf­fle her hus­band’s con­ver­sa­tions. She ac­com­pa­nied him on a road trip in Scan­di­navia, pur­port­edly to visit cas­tles but in fact so that he could sup­ply anti-com­mu­nist op­er­a­tives with ra­dio de­vices hid­den in the car’s trunk. In Saigon, she pro­tected her young chil­dren dur­ing a coup mounted against their neigh­bor, Pres­i­dent Ngo Dinh Diem.

For nearly four decades, Mrs. Colby lived the life of a CIA wife, per­form­ing what another agency spouse once de­scribed as “the tra­di­tional part­ner­ship role of ‘ two em­ploy­ees for the price of one.’ ”

From1945 un­til their di­vorce in 1984, she was the wife of Wil­liam E. Colby — the spy and later spy­mas­ter who, as CIA di­rec­tor from 1973 to 1976, re­vealed the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts and other clan­des­tine ac­tiv­i­ties known as the agency’s “fam­ily jewels.”

Mrs. Colby, 94, died July 16 in Washington. The ap­par­ent cause was a heart at­tack, said her son Paul Colby. Wil­liam Colby died in 1996 in an ap­par­ent ac­ci­den­tal drown­ing in the Wi­comico River in Mary­land.

The cou­ple met on a blind date and were mar­ried shortly af­ter Wil­liam Colby re­turned from ser­vice in Europe dur­ing World War II with the Of­fice of Strate­gic Ser­vices. He soon joined its suc­ces­sor es­pi­onage agency, the CIA, which would take him — and his fam­ily— on covert and of­ten risky mis­sions on sev­eral con­ti­nents.

“There were times when, re­ally, I didn’t know what role we were play­ing,” Mrs. Colby said in an in­ter­view for the film “The Man No­body Knew,” a 2011 doc­u­men­tary about her ex-hus­band and di­rected by their son Carl Colby. She re­called won­der­ing, “Whoare we tonight?”

Dur­ing a post­ing in Stock­holm in the early 1950s, her hus­band’s cover was as a For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer.

Mrs. Colby “jumped into the job of the ju­nior diplo­mat’s wife with her typ­i­cal en­thu­si­asm and charm,” Wil­liam Colby wrote in his 1978 memoir “Hon­or­able Men: My Life in the CIA,” cred­it­ing her also with main­tain­ing a nor­mal fam­ily life. “To­gether in this way,” he wrote, “we did much to shore up my weak cover and con­vince most peo­ple that I was in fact what I said I was — a diplo­mat.”

In Rome, where Wil­liam Colby was posted from 1953 to 1958, Mrs. Colby im­mersed her­self in the coun­try’s lan­guage and re­li­gious and artis­tic her­itage while her hus­band helped lead ef­forts to pre­vent a Com­mu­nist vic­tory in Ital­ian elec­tions.

In 1959, they moved to South Viet­nam, where Wil­liam Colby be­came sta­tion chief in Saigon, which is now called Ho Chi Minh City. In that city, he wrote, the fam­ily re­ceived its “baptism of fire” dur­ing an un­suc­cess­ful 1960 coup mounted against Diem.

As bul­lets “whined” through the win­dows of their home, Wil­liam Colby re­called, he “bar­ri­caded” his wife and chil­dren up­stairs. Dur­ing a pause in the fight­ing, and with her hus­band by then oc­cu­pied at the em­bassy, Mrs. Colby es­corted her chil­dren to a safer lo­ca­tion. Diem was de­posed and killed in a U.S.-sup­ported coup in 1963.

Af­ter that post­ing, the fam­ily re­turned to the United States and Wil­liam Colby went back alone to South Viet­nam. There, he over­saw Op­er­a­tion Phoenix, a pro­gram de­signed to root out Com­mu­nist Viet Cong agents in South Viet­nam and that ul­ti­mately killed more than 20,000 Viet­namese.

In­his memoir, Colby wrote that in his ab­sence, Mrs. Colby “faced in­creas­ing dif­fi­cul­ties,” par­tic­u­larly in car­ing for their daugh­ter Cather­ine, who suf­fered from epilepsy and anorexia. But Mrs. Colby’s “own loy­alty kept her from com­plain­ing or let­ting any­thing in­ter­fere” with his work, he wrote. In 1973, their daugh­ter died at 23.

Mrs. Colby sup­ported her hus­band when, af­ter his tes­ti­mony about the “fam­ily jewels,” he was re­moved from of­fice by Pres­i­dent Gerald R. Ford. Dur­ing and af­ter her hus­band’s ten­ure as di­rec­tor, she was re­garded in­side the agency as a charis­matic ad­vo­cate for CIA fam­i­lies. She drew at­ten­tion to the par­tic­u­lar prob­lems, in­clud­ing high di­vorce rates, that are shoul­dered by cou­ples who must con­tend with the rig­ors of clan­des­tine life.

In the 1980s, Mrs. Colby helped lead a suc­cess­ful ef­fort to win leg­is­la­tion guar­an­tee­ing shares of life­time ben­e­fits, sur­vivor ben­e­fits and health in­sur­ance for for­mer spouses — mainly wives — of CIA em­ploy­ees. She and other CIA wives mod­eled their cam­paign on ear­lier, more public ef­forts by for­mer spouses of State Depart­ment em­ploy­ees. The CIA women worked be­hind the scenes, as not to “out” the spouses still em­ployed there.

Be­fore the leg­is­la­tion was en­acted, many spouses en­dured long over­seas as­sign­ments that left them un­able to build ca­reers in the United States, then di­vorced and were des­ti­tute be­cause they were not en­ti­tled to por­tions of CIA ben­e­fits.

Mrs. Colby found her­self a ben­e­fi­ciary of that leg­is­la­tion when she and her hus­band, who had sup­ported the cam­paign on be­half of the ex-spouses, were di­vorced. Shortly there­after, Wil­liam Colby mar­ried Sally Shel­ton, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador.

“I guess I would say he was a com­pli­cated per­son whom maybe I didn’t know as well as I would hope to think I did,” Mrs. Colby said in her son’s doc­u­men­tary.

Mrs. Colby was born Bar­bara Ann Heinzen in Spring­field, Ohio, on Dec. 25, 1920. Her fa­ther, Karl, was pres­i­dent of the Bayer drug man­u­fac­turer in the mid-1930s.

She re­ceived a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in history from Barnard Col­lege in New York in 1942 and was an advertising copy­writer be­fore mar­ry­ing. In 1992, she re­ceived a master’s de­gree in hu­man­i­ties from Georgetown Univer­sity.

Mrs. Colby served for many years on the CIA’s Fam­ily Ad­vi­sory Board, which rep­re­sents the in­ter­ests of agency fam­ily mem­bers, and in 2002 re­ceived the pres­ti­gious Di­rec­tor’s Award from thenCIA Di­rec­tor Ge­orge Tenet, rec­og­niz­ing her “un­tir­ing ef­forts on the part of for­mer Agency spouses” and her “con­stant con­cern for the wel­fare of Agency fam­i­lies.”

In a state­ment af­ter Mrs. Colby’s death, Tenet and his wife, Stephanie Glakas-Tenet, said that “CIA Di­rec­tors came and went, but Bar­bara was an in­dis­pens­able foun­da­tion, serv­ing the Agency for nearly 60 years.”

Sur­vivors in­clude four chil­dren, Jonathan Colby of Jupiter Is­land, Fla., Carl Colby and Chris­tine Colby Gi­raudo, both of Washington, and Paul Colby of Alexandria, Va.; eight grand­chil­dren; and three great-grand­chil­dren.

In the doc­u­men­tary, Carl Colby said that his mother did “ev­ery­thing for the mis­sion.”

“She hadn’t signed up for this,” he said, “But she did it.”


Bar­bara Colby and Wil­liam Colby with their daugh­ter Cather­ine and sons Jonathan, top right, and Carl.

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