News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Remembering Ash Carter

Nov. 02, 2022

Ash Carter, Director of the Belfer Center and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, died suddenly on October 24, 2022. The Belfer Center community is deeply saddened by his loss. 

On these pages, members of the Center and broader Harvard community, government officials, and many others share their thoughts and stories of Ash Carter's impact on them, the nation, and the world. 

Additional tributes will be added to these pages as they arrive. Comments may be posted here.

Photo Gallery and Celebration of Life Slideshow

Ash Carter in Photos


From Government Officials

President Joe Biden


When I think of Ash Carter, I think of a man of extraordinary integrity. Honest. Principled. Guided by a strong, steady moral compass and a vision of using his life for public purpose.” 

(See Pres. Biden's full statement here.)

Former President Barack Obama

“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.”

(See Pres. Obama's full statement here.)

Nicholas Burns, U.S. Ambassador to China; former Director, Future of Diplomacy Project, Belfer Center

“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.”

Samantha Power, Administrator, United States Agency for International Development; former Professor, HKS

“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.”

Jane Harman, Chair of the Board, Freedom House

“When Ash left the Pentagon, he told me I was in his '3 AM club.' That meant that I was a friend he could call when he really needed to. I only wish he had been able to call last Monday evening.

When I saw him in New York a few weeks ago, he was brilliant and full of energy, as usual. The editorials about him catalog so well the many things he accomplished. Among his greatest was persuading Senators Nunn and Lugar to introduce and push a treaty to eliminate loose nukes in the former Soviet republics. How grateful we are to him for that-- and of course for opening combat roles to women and welcoming transgender people.

But I didn't get in the 3 AM club for nothing. We had a lovely friendship, and when he learned eight years ago that Bob Dickie was in my life, he insisted on coming over to my DC home to meet Bob. The armored Suburbans were in my driveway and Ash only had an hour, but he was determined to take the measure of this new guy. PHEW! The good news is he liked Bob and Bob liked him and eight years later that relationship is still strong

Ash Carters don't come along very often. How fortunate we all were to know him for so many decades. How my heart goes out to the fabulous Stephanie and his family.”

Lloyd Austin III, U.S. Secretary of Defense

“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.”

Laura Holgate, U.S. Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna, Austria; former Project Coordinator, Cooperative Denuclearization, Belfer Center

“I am still struggling to accept news of Ash Carter’s death. Ash was the most brilliant person I have ever known. His insight, with then-Stanford professor Bill Perry— that the Soviet collapse meant that Russian weakness, not strength, was the greatest WMD threat; and that cooperation, not confrontation, was the solution— was crazy...until it was necessary. I was fortunate to be along for that ride, accelerated and supercharged by Senators Sam Nunn's and Richard Lugar's legislative embrace of Carter’s and Perry’s prescription. Its pursuit took me with Ash from the Belfer Center to the Pentagon and from there to Kyiv, Moscow, Minsk, Almaty, Dniepropetrovsk, Sarov, Pervomaysk, Mayak, Severdovinsk, Shchuchye, and so many other dots on the map of the post-Soviet WMD archipelago.

We found shared goals and human connections with the leaders of these newly independent countries: to reduce these threats to humanity through cooperation. I was so privileged to be among those many government and private sector people who felt inspired to make a difference. Ash placed his confidence in me to help make his vision for Cooperative Threat Reduction real, which became a 30-year career for me, and an embedded tenet of WMD policy and programming for the Defense Department, the State Department, DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and so many other nations and NGOs. How different and dangerous the world would have been without that initial crazy/necessary insight.

Ash supported and advanced women as long as I’ve known him. His team at Belfer and later at the Pentagon is a who’s-who of inspiring women leaders. His signature decisions opening all military roles to women and to trans people was not surprising to me but still made me very proud of him and his inclusive vision of national security.

In his post-Pentagon return to the Belfer Center, I could see how Ash reveled in his chance to shape the next generation of government leaders. I can only think of those now bereft of his guiding touch, his inspiration to service. My own service journey owes itself to Ash’s vision, trust, and drive toward meaningful outcomes, and to his example of how academia and government can inspire and empower each other toward lasting good.

As deeply as I feel Ash’s loss, I feel a responsibility - shared, I know, with so many others who he mentored and encouraged - to embody his legacy and to strive for a safer and more secure world. What a leader. What a loss. What a legacy. Rest in peace, Ash. You changed the world, and my world, for the better, and I am eternally grateful.”

Vidya Neelakantan, Director for Strategic Planning, National Security Council

“It’s hard to capture the essence of Ash Carter. A man who was, at once, a giant and deeply human. At once the consummate role model and the class clown. At once a fierce defender of America and a natural teacher who slid easily--too easily!--into ‘story time with Ash’. At once the toughest critic and the most steadfast ally. 

Others will speak more eloquently than I can about his incredible achievements. The fact that he was a visionary. The fact that his true genius lay in his ability to present novel, ground-breaking concepts in terms so clear and simple that they seemed almost obvious. The fact that he was always two steps ahead, looking to crack the code on the next generation of challenges facing the world. 

What I will treasure most about Ash is the way he touched the lives of the many, many people in his orbit, in ways both big and small. After a brief two-year stint helping him create new classes upon his return to HKS in 2017, I gained not only a mentor and a friend but, as I’ve realized since his passing, an ally who stood by me, quietly pushing me forward every step of the way. Sometimes this took the form of him vouching for me for a new job I was eyeing and reminding me to always reach out because ‘we’re in the same business, you and I, of propelling your career. You guys are my legacy now. I do well if you do well.’ More importantly and perhaps more unexpectedly, this involved him always being there to offer advice after a particularly difficult experience, a nudge and a dose of perspective when necessary, or a reminder of what we are fighting for and how high the stakes are today. It involved calls on weekends urging me to stay in government, particularly in 2019 and 2020 when faith was hard to come by. It involved many, many instances of ‘hey pal, let’s take a lap.’ And perhaps what I will miss most, it involved so many jokes, Carter-isms and gleeful grins along the way—‘what are we going to do with this ugly baby?’, ‘pardon my French...’, ‘what is it you say you do here?’

So thank you, Ash Carter. For what you've done for your country, your students, and the army of people you've lifted up. For the power of your example and your deep commitment to service. For teaching me what it means to be a leader, a mentor, and a friend. I will strive to make you proud. ”

Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator

“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.”

Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senator

“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.”

Takuya Nishiuchi, Embassy of Japan

“We Japanese are saddened to hear about the passing of Secretary Ashton Carter.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Secretary Carter’s family and friends.”

Karen Pierce, British Ambassador to U.S. (handwritten on tribute sheets while a guest speaker at the Belfer Center, 11/1/2022)

“In grateful tribute for all of Secretary Carter’s leadership and inspirational roles. His achievements live on and the world is better for them. Thank you.”

From the Belfer Center, Harvard, and Beyond

Lawrence S. Bacow, President, Harvard University

“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.”

Douglas W. Elmendorf, Dean, Harvard Kennedy School

“Much more could—and should—be said about Ash Carter. We will find ways to share the perspectives of the many people at the Kennedy School and beyond who knew Ash and worked with him. For my part, 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.”

(See Dean Elmendorf's complete comments here.)

Rakesh Khurana, Dean, Harvard College

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

Eric Rosenbach, Co-Director, Belfer Center

“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.”

Laurence Belfer, Belfer Center International Council

“My family knew and greatly admired Ash going back to when we first met in the mid-1980’s. Over the decades, our stories became more intertwined. I remember Ash giving us pieces of nuclear weapons that he had a hand in dismantling under the Nunn Lugar program at the rededication of what is now the Robert and Renee Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) about 25 years ago. A particularly proud moment for me was in 2016 when Ash, still Secretary of Defense, and my father together received the Business Executives for National Security Eisenhower Award as ‘two deserving leaders who have worked to promote President Eisenhower’s goal of achieving a proper balance between our nation’s security and its liberty, and who share our conviction that national security is everybody’s business…and who want democracy to survive for all generations to come.’ And, of course, in 2017 Ash became the Director of BCSIA as well as the Belfer Professor. Ash will be deeply missed on so many levels—the national, the institutional and the personal. He was a fine human being, a formidable intellect and a devoted public servant. In short, he was a role model for our time—and for all times. May he rest in peace…”

Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government; former Director, Belfer Center

“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 Mich le 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.”

Natalie Colbert, Executive Director, Belfer Center

“One of the things I admired most about Secretary Carter was his commitment to lifelong learning. This was of course evident in the decades he spent at HKS. But, he also studied on vacation: I was heading to Martha’s Vineyard for the first time and asked the Secretary for any recommendations. He said, “Well I’ll have to ask the boss [referring to his wife Stephanie] because I just go and read my physics books.” We may not all take textbooks to read on vacation, but we can honor Secretary Carter’s legacy by carrying forward the work of the Belfer Center through our pursuit of lifelong learning.”

Lauren Zabierek, Acting Executive Director, Belfer Center

“‘Grief only exists where love lived first.’ – Franchesca Cox

To see the outpouring of grief in people around the world demonstrates how loved Ash was. And it wasn’t the kind of idolatry of a celebrity–no, people near and far feel this profound loss not only because of his leadership and impact, but because Ash went out of his way to make people feel seen and valued. Even if you didn’t know him personally, you know the indefatigable work he did for his country, his fellow citizens, and for the people who worked with and for him, out of a driving sense of service and public purpose. When I think about all the interactions that I had with Ash–as one of 90 students in his class back in 2019, to now as the Acting Executive Director of the Belfer Center this semester where I worked with him closely, three words come to mind: warm, principled, dedicated. It didn’t matter who you were—he treated everyone with respect, sharing himself and a good laugh.  From my vantage point, everything was all about people, service, and public purpose with Ash. And principles–the RIGHT thing to do. Any time I saw him get upset, it was because someone or something had gone against one of those things. I respected him so much for his service to the nation and for his brilliance. I admired him so much for making huge impacts on the battlefield and in the boardroom, and for what he was willing to do to help others, to do the right thing, and to defend the institutions that defend our democracy. I will carry these lessons and his example with me always. We grieve our boss, our leader, our mentor, our friend…but we also grieve the loss of a truly global leader, thinker, and doer. Indeed, the world seems less certain, less safe to me without him in it.”

Steven E. Miller, Director, International Security Program, Belfer Center

“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.”

John P. Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Research Professor of Environmental Policy; Co-Director, Science, Technology and Public Policy Program, 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.”

Juliette Kayyem, Belfer Senior Lecturer in International Security

“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.”

Henry Lee, Director, Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center

“Ash embodied the ideals that we all strive to attain. His actions starting with his analysis of the fallacies around President Reagan's Star Wars defense system, his advocacy around Loose Nuclear weapons and his policies to give women equal standing in the military have made --and will continue to make a difference in this country and the world. He was a leader, a patriot, a mentor, and a visionary.

I got to know Ash in the 1980s—when his son and my daughter both attended the Soldiers Field Day Care.  What many people do not know is that Ash is the primary reason the Environment and Natural Resources program ended up in the Belfer Center. I had decided to move to the Business and Government Center when Ash—then Director of the Center for Science and International Affairs—came to my office and asked me to reconsider. He explained that he and the Dean both felt that the environment would become a global issue and its optimal location would be in the Kennedy School's international Center. At the time, I was skeptical, but when Ash said that he would help me raise the funds to establish an international environmental policy program, I accepted.  When you think about the issues that absorb our attention today-- climate change , the Arctic, global energy security, and sustainability.  it seems obvious that environmental concerns would become globalized, but that was not the case in 1991. As he was so many times on so many issues , Ash was amazingly prescient and visionary.

I feel very fortunate that I had the privilege of working with him for most of my career ,and I will miss him."

Joseph S. Nye, former Dean, Harvard Kennedy School; Faculty Affiliate, Future of Diplomacy Project, Belfer Center

“I was shocked and saddened by Ash’s death. We were friends and colleagues for nearly 40 years. When I was director of BCSIA, he was my associate director, and we worked together as assistant secretaries in the Pentagon. At meetings of the Aspen Strategy Group, we hiked together in the mountains. Ash made major contributions to national security policy as well as to our local Kennedy School community. He was a great citizen and a great friend. We are all made poorer by his loss but enriched by his life.”

Albert (Al) Carnesale, Co-founder, (Belfer) Center for Science and International Affairs; former Dean, Harvard Kennedy School, Chancellor Emeritus, UCLA

“Ash Carter is not quite a generation younger than I, yet his passing feels much like the loss of a son. As an engineer turned policy wonk, as academic dean of the Kennedy School, and as a former associate director of the (now Belfer) Center for Science and International Affairs, I was ecstatic in 1984 when Ash joined us as an assistant professor. The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) had just published his report, ‘Directed Energy Missile Defense in Space,’ in which he examined the potential of the kind of missile defense imagined in President Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ speech of the previous year. Based upon his detailed analysis, Ash judged that: ‘The prospect that emerging ‘Star Wars’ technologies, when further developed, will provide a perfect or near-perfect defense system . . . is so remote that it should not serve as the basis of public expectations or national policy about ballistic missile defense (BMD).’ Unsurprisingly, this conclusion was challenged by the defense establishment, but it was soon proven to be correct (and it remains valid today). In light of the confirmation of Ash’s judgment, the Reagan administration chose to continue to adhere to the US – USSR Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972, which prohibited the development, testing, and deployment of space-based ABM systems. Indeed, the Treaty remained in effect until the US withdrew in 2002 — a decade after the dissolution of the USSR.”

Michael Nacht, Co-founder, (Belfer) Center for Science and International Affairs; Directing Staff, BCSIA (1973-83); Schneider Chair Emeritus, UC.Berkeley

“Ash Carter was the most talented technology/policy analyst of his generation. He was a key figure in Nunn/Lugar denuclearization implementation; in development and deployment of mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs), crucially effective in Ukraine; in ending the ban of transgender officers in the military and the opening of all military occupations to women; and in fashioning a strategy to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. He was a natural leader in the Pentagon and at the Belfer Center where he expanded the research agenda to include cyber security and advances in biotechnology. He was direct, friendly, respectful and brilliant: a AAA human being.”

Michèle Flournoy, Managing Partner, WestExec Advisors; former Belfer Center Senior Fellow

“I first met Ash in 1989 when I arrived at what is now the Belfer Center as a Research Fellow and Ash was an aspiring young professor. From the beginning, he struck me as a whip smart, sometimes brash but deeply caring colleague who was passionate about solving the toughest problems at the intersection of science, technology and international security. Whether it was collaborating on the initial proposal for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program or working on a publication for the Avoiding Nuclear War project, Ash was already a force to be reckoned with even in his earliest days at the Kennedy School. 

And then there was Ash the friend and colleague: I can recall his beaming smile as I walked down the aisle at my wedding and his booming greeting whenever he would drop by the office I shared with Laura Holgate. That was the first of many chapters when our career paths would entertwine: the Clinton Administration when we both served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, on the Obama defense transition team, and in the first Obama administration as new Undersecretaries. 

In the Pentagon, Ash was all about the mission, be it implementing the Nunn Lugar program and strengthening nuclear deterrence or, later, rapidly fielding capabilities critical to the warfighter in Iraq and Afghanistan, lifting the remaining restrictions on women serving in the military, establishing the Defense Innovation Unit, and creating the international coalition to fight ISIS when it reemerged in Iraq and Syria. And always, always he was about taking care of the men and women who serve and their families. He and Stephanie always spent time listening to the concerns of the most junior service members and made countless trips to Dover to be there for bereaved families. He understood the human costs of war and that informed his advice to the President when he was Secretary of Defense. 

It is impossible to capture all of Ash's contributions to our national security and to the defense community. Perhaps most importantly, he was a beloved colleague, friend and mentor to so many. Though he was taken from us too soon, he will live on in our hearts. My prayers go out to his family and all who were touched by his larger than life spirit.”

Condoleezza Rice, Director, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; former U.S. Secretary of State 

“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.”

Robert M. Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense

“Becky and I are shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the premature passing of Ash Carter. Ash was a true defense professional who understood all aspects of the enterprise. I relied heavily on his expertise when he worked for me as did President Obama when he nominated Ash to be Secretary of Defense. His insights and perspectives will be difficult to replace and his humor and regard for the troops deeply missed. And I will deeply miss a good friend."

Stephen J. Flanagan, Ph.D., former Executive Director and Fellow, Belfer Center, International Security Journal Ed. Board

“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.”

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

“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.”

Erica Chenoweth, Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment, Harvard Kennedy School

“Ash had an extraordinary career of public service, research, teaching, and mentoring students, fellows, and colleagues. He was always extremely kind and encouraging, and he did a remarkable job making the Belfer Center an intellectually vibrant and inclusive pace. But one thing that really inspired me about Ash was his enthusiastic support and pursuit of big ideas. There are too many examples of this to describe in a brief note. But in the past couple of years alone, I was very impressed by some of his recent efforts, alongside other former Secretaries of Defense, to restore the U.S. to healthier civil-military relations. On Jan. 3rd, 2021, before the certification of the 2020 election results, he and other former Secretaries of Defense published a piece in the Washington Post, calling for civilian and uniformed military officials to recognize that their responsibility was to the Constitution, not to the incumbent president. Given what happened three days later, on Jan. 6th, this was a crucial intervention. More recently, on September 6, 2022, he joined again with all seven former Secretaries of Defense, alongside all living former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in signing an open letter (published at War on the Rocks) that articulated ‘the core principles and best practices by which civilian and military professionals have conducted healthy American civil-military relations in the past.’ It is a great testament to his legacy that he was thinking, organizing, writing, and speaking about this ambitious initiative in his final weeks. I greatly admire Ash's willingness to recognize his power and influence—and to promote principled, constructive ideas—when the country needed it the most.”

Venky Narayanamurti, Emeritus Professor, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard Kennedy School; former Director, Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, Belfer Center 

“Ash's passing is a huge loss for those of us working at the intersection of technology, innovation and public policy. I was a regular attendee at periodic meetings of the Boston Faculty Tech Hub Faculty working Group which he jointly convened with SEAS Dean Frank Doyle. His passion, his commitment to advancing the frontier for public purpose and his efforts to reach out broadly to the Tech community will be sorely missed by us all.”

Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy & Economic Development; Director, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

“I was both shocked and saddened by Ash's sudden passing. I still find it difficult to comprehend. He accomplished so much in his life in academia and in government that he deserved a graceful retirement with abundant rest and relaxation. He was not only a great colleague, but a wonderful friend. My heart goes out to Stephanie, Ava, and Will.

I first met Ash when our late colleague Tom (& Corinne) Schelling invited us along with our respective spouses to dinner at their house. This was in the fall of 1988, shortly after I joined the faculty, and Ash and I were both Assistant Professors. In subsequent years, Ash brought Ava to our house to play with our son Daniel, now 31 years old! We quickly benefitted directly from Ash's departure from HKS to the Clinton administration, when we were able to gain admission for Daniel to the Soldiers Field Park Harvard Daycare Center, because a spot had opened up due to the move to DC of Ash and his family!

In more recent years, both before and after Ash's service in the Obama administration, Ash shared in my Red Sox season tickets with remarkable frequency.

Goodbye, Ash, we miss you terribly.”

Linda Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Public Finance; Belfer Center Board of Directors

“I first met Ash over two decades ago, when I was serving as Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration. We met at a Baldridge National Quality Award event. He had a great laugh and I liked him immediately. Throughout his tenure at DoD and HKS, he has been a supportive colleague, who reinforced the value of my work. He wrote a generous blurb for a book I co-authored, ‘The People Factor: Strengthening America by Investing in Public Service.’ He supported my research on war costs, stating publicly that the Three Trillion Dollar War and my subsequent studies on war financing were ‘often not enjoyable to read—but 100% accurate and important.’

Five days before he died, I was with Ash at the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-Lab), moderating a ‘fireside chat’ with him, the Senior Managers in Government Exec Ed program, and students launching start-ups related to public service. The i-Lab is all about Ash's favorite things - technology, ideas, creativity, energetic students - and there is a giant photo of him (from one of his previous visits) hanging on the wall. Ash was at his best - thoughtful and funny, warm and positive. He wowed the SMG participants by knowing their bios, and stayed nearly an hour longer than planned, he took photos with all of the participants and made the event a success. 

Ash answered questions for about 45 minutes. The final question he answered related to how he was able to accomplish so much, and to manage his time. He replied, thoughtfully, that it was a matter of ‘knowing when it's time to leave a job, when it's time to stop doing something, when it's time to pass the baton to the next person.’ For once Ash got it wrong. This was not his time, and he left us far too soon. ”

Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations

“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.”

Fu Xiao, Acting Secretary-General, China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies

“We are deeply saddened to know of the passing of Dr. Ashton Carter. Please allow me, on behalf of all of us at China Foundation for International and Stategic Studies to extend our deepest condolences to his family. Chen Zhiya, Zhang Tuosheng, Zhang Yu, and other old friends are also very sad about this passing, and express their deepest sympathies.

Dr. Carter was an honest, kind man with a strong sense of morality. As the co-chair, he contributed greatly to our Track II dialogue. We hope the dialogue between our two institutes will be held continually to memorialize him.”

Sarah Sewall, former Faculty, Belfer Center

“Ash showed that even the most talented and accomplished people can continue to grow and evolve. This — even more than his brilliance or boldness — made him an inspiration to me. While I didn't know him extremely well, I had worked in more junior capacities alongside Ash at DoD and HKS. I observed that as his personal and professional life changed, he developed and strengthened important elements of his attitude and capacity. He became more empowering and inclusive of others and alternative views. He made family a greater—and public—priority; my favorite memory of Ash was his interrupting a group discussion to take a call from his daughter. His evolution benefited not just those around him, but the nation as he pushed the Pentagon to evolve as well. His humor, the breadth of his thinking, and his kindness all ripened over time. May we all follow in his footsteps.”

Roger Porter, IBM Professor of Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School

“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.”

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

“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.”

Laura Manley, Executive Director, Shorenstein Center, Harvard Kennedy School; former Director, Technology and Public Purpose Project, Belfer Center

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

In the early days of TAPP, I remember trying to figure out how to develop programming for him. He would say, it needs to be about ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘truth and trust’ and I would push back and say, ‘But how do you program for that? Not everyone values those things like you do and people have different definitions of what is right and wrong.’ And like clockwork, he would insist that deep down, people knew the ‘right thing to do’ and that we needed to find ways to bring out the best in people. For someone as experienced as him, it was always refreshing to hear his unwavering optimism about humanity and the importance of acting with integrity.

One year, for my performance review, Ash took me to a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. We sat down and he said ‘You doing ok?’ I said ‘Yes, everything seems to be going well…’ and that was the end of the performance review. We wound up talking about growing up, his lacrosse skills, our mutual love of Fenway Italian sausages, and general career advice. Was the best performance review I’ve ever had.

Ash has left a legacy for the ages. His life and career are testament to the positive difference one person can make in the world. I will miss him dearly and send nothing but love to his family.”

Bina Venkataraman, Editor-at-Large, The Boston Globe; Fellow, Technology and Public Purpose Project, Belfer Center

“Ash was unique in that his formidable intellect was matched by the greatness of his heart and the solidity of his moral compass. He has been a friend, supporter, collaborator, and mentor to me at various points over the past decade, including most recently under the auspices of the Technology and Public Purpose Program, to which he recruited me. I am deeply grateful that I had the chance to learn from his extraordinary example of leadership and to play a small part in the thriving community he has built at Harvard and beyond. I will miss him, and so will the world, which needs more people like him in public service. I take solace in seeing the many ways he has sparked rigorous thinking and action to ensure science and technology serve the public good. ”

Tarek Masoud, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance, Harvard Kennedy School

“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.”

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

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

Wendy Anderson, former Chief of Staff to then Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter;  currently senior vice president for national security at Palantir Technologies

(Excerpt) “As I sat in Washington National Cathedral at former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s memorial last week, I was as shocked and heartbroken as I was when I learned of his passing in the early morning hours of October 25, 2022. I kept thinking about his laser-focused, penetrating mind, the kinetic way he engaged in the world, the seemingly limitless energy from which he made things manifest in time and space. He was utterly relentless, indefatigable. And now… silence. In that silence, we in the national security community are trying to find our way.

There is nothing in my professional life for which I am more grateful, and prouder, than the years I spent with Ash as his chief of staff at the United States Department of Defense. 

....The rigor Ash applied to national security problems was impressive; his execution, almost always flawless. There was something singularly unique about his sensibility: firmly grounded in history, oriented toward the future, committed at the DNA level to producing enduring outcomes. It’s exceedingly rare for a person to be that smart and discerning, and to execute that effectively in the real world, all for the good of a nation. Ash had it all in equal quantities. (The complete tribute is available here at the Atlantic Council's New Atlanticist)

George A. Krol,  Adjunct Professor, Naval War College; Ambassador (ret.); former Assistant to the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for the Newly Independent States (1995-97)

(Excerpt from recounting of Ash Carter's vital role in nuclear security in newly independent Soviet states in mid-90s. See complete tribute here.)

“In the meetings with senior government leaders, Ash acted the same as in Washington:  he listened, he sought understanding, he persuaded, and he challenged his counterparts effectively and politely. I admired how well he could interact with the various personalities in our garden patch – from the likes of Boris Yeltsin, Heydar Aliyev, and Leonid Kravchuk to Nursultan Nazarbayev, Emomali Rahmon and especially the irascible Islom Karimov of Uzbekistan.  Ash made a positive impression on all these interlocuters.  Years later, when I was ambassador to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and even Belarus, my interlocuters referred to Ash Carter as representing the golden age in their respective security relationships with the U.S.  Even the normally dour Karimov smiled warmly when speaking of Ash.

Ash never shied away from eating the local food, wearing the gifted garb, joining in a dance, or witnessing a parachute drop in the middle of nowhere. The only time I saw him worry was when our plane – “his” plane – was corkscrewing its way to land in war-torn Dushanbe.  Ash knew instinctively that showing up in these places at that time was what we needed to do for U.S. policy to be relevant.  I would contend much of what remains today of U.S. credibility in the region is thanks in good measure to the work, dedication, and leadership of Ash Carter in those days.

In the end, Ash Carter was always a teacher.  His forays into government were the product of his innate dedication to public service.  He taught me as a junior government bureaucrat the value of people coming into government from the outside, bringing fresh perspectives and challenging the status quo – something that makes the U.S. system, for all its flaws, stand out and sometimes succeed.”

Doug Calidas, Chief of Staff for Senator Amy Klobuchar; Fellow, TAPP

“This past summer, I became a Fellow in the Technology and Public Purpose program that Ash created. I could not have been more excited to conduct research under Ash's guidance and I remember thinking that his accomplishments would seem farfetched if they were pitched as the back story for a fictional character (a Secretary of Defense who was a Rhodes Scholar and studied particle physics? Really?)

In person, Ash was warm and thoughtful, and I was amazed that he took an interest in my work and went out of his way to welcome me into his program. I am incredibly sad that I will not have the opportunity to continue learning from him and my heart goes out to the many people he mentored over the years who have lost a trusted adviser and friend.”

Karen Hao, Fellow, Technology and Public Purpose Project, Belfer Center

“In creating the TAPP fellowship, Ash always said he had wanted to create a community among people at the intersection of technology and public purpose where he hadn't seen one before. That he did. He welcomed us from various walks of life—technologists, policymakers, journalists—and provided us endless encouragement to bring our knowledge and experiences to the table. What he gave us most was a shared language and a shared purpose; he helped us find fellow travelers all engaged in the same exciting yet difficult questions across organizations and disciplines. And no matter how busy he was, he always showed up to share some kind words and remind us that our work matters.”

David C. Speedie, former Senior Fellow, Belfer Center; Founder and former Director of U.S. Global Engagement Program, Carnegie Council

“Ash's tragic and premature loss extends well beyond Belfer and Harvard.  As a program chair at Carnegie Corporation, our grants to Ash and Bill Perry for the Preventive Defense Project constituted a penetrating education into critical U.S. policy and relationships--with Russia and China most especially.  To an uncommon extent, and in my own experience, he combined a formidable and original intellect with a genuine collegiality.”

Simon Saradzhyan, Project Director, Russia Matters

“I first met Professor Carter at Harvard Kennedy School in a class he co-taught on American national security in the fall of 2001. The large auditorium would be packed with over 100 students, but Professor Carter would always find time for each student, whether they asked a question during or after class. His was among the classes I found most captivating as well as useful as a HKS student interested in a career as a researcher in international security.

While I thought I had a good idea of Professor Carter’s outstanding accomplishments at the time, it was not until more than a decade later while researching a timeline of U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation, that I realized the key role he played in helping to conceptualize and then implement an extremely complex multi-year project to ensure no Soviet nukes ended up in the wrong hands. I will always remain thankful to Professor Carter for that as well as for his teaching and leadership.”

Jacob Taylor, former Fellow, Technology and Public Purpose Project, Belfer Center

“I remember the first invitation from Secretary Carter—to join a panel at the Boston Tech breakfast series. It felt electric, to have this luminary become interested in a narrow area. I did not realize that it would lead into a longer collaboration at the time, and indeed, it took several years before that came to fruition. But that was Ash—constantly probing and searching for a future that was better than the present, looking at technology as one angle that COULD help but only with, in his words, ‘the hard work over many years of thousands of people driving it forward.’ 

Coming to work at the Belfer Center, having Ash dressed in his characteristic suit and tie and engaged voice and mind in call after call, and being a part of an indefatigable effort to make technology's application to society work for humanity, was a dream. I'll particularly highlight how he dedicated so much time, and opened up so much of his network, to help the individuals, each of us struggling to make those small changes that lead to big impacts later. So many threads have begun due to his long and intense effort to get them off the ground — I can only hope we are equal to the task.”

Leisel Bogan, former Fellow, Technology and Public Purpose Project, Belfer Center

“I was fortunate, through the Technology and Public Purpose Program, to have nearly a year's worth of advising from and close work with Secretary Carter and his once-in-a-generation mind. Throughout my experiences with him, I was struck by his extraordinary vision and wisdom, his great generosity, and his unwavering ethical standards.

Early in our work together, I proposed situating the concepts we were exploring within one of the frameworks of his earlier work, and he suggested I consult a different book of his, Keeping the Edge. One year before the attacks of 9/11, Secretary Carter presciently warned of the consequences of a possible homeland attack to civil liberties and social values. Whether it was nuclear threats or threats to American values from reactionary policies or information technology gone awry, Secretary Carter’s uncanny ability to see around corners and identify existential threats is a common thread throughout his work and in my experiences with him.

He also encouraged me to go outside of my comfort zone intellectually, as a staffer, and in life. After gifting me his tickets to a Red Sox game, he told me, ‘For food, you have to get one of everything they have. You don’t have to eat it all, just get one of everything and try it. Try everything.’

During another conversation, as I was finishing my Fellowship, he asked, ‘Do you want to be Secretary of Defense? Secretary of State?’

I stared, mouth agape. I wasn’t expecting these questions from anyone, let alone someone as brilliant and accomplished as him. ‘Who do you admire? Who do you want to be like?’, he urged. ‘What do you want to do?’

It pains me to write this, because then and now I wanted to answer ‘You.’ I didn’t want to say ‘you’ because he was Secretary of Defense, either. It was because of his kindness, generosity, and commitment to public service and the public good. I also did not know how to respond to someone who believed more in my abilities and in my future than I ever have. As the unparalleled mentor he was, he saw a bigger future for me than I could ever envision for myself.

He also, uniquely, held himself and others to superior ethical and moral standards at a time when making excuses for moral failings seems to be a national pastime. During my last conversation with him, I asked why he wasn’t advising the tech companies we had been discussing.

‘I think it would be unethical,’ he responded immediately. ‘That’s why I am not at the Lockheed’s of the world, too. I don’t want some young soldier looking up and seeing a former Secretary of Defense running around one of those companies. That’s why I am here doing this. I want to invest in the future, in those who will lead it for the public good, not material gain. I want to teach and invest in students and those who want to serve. People like you.’

Secretary Carter was a national treasure, and I am grateful to TAPP and HKS for giving me the opportunity to know and learn from him.”

Mike Bloomberg, former Mayor, New York City

“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.”

Kay Kapoor, former President AT&T; International Council Member

“Stunned by the sad news! Ash's invaluable service to our nation will always be held in the highest regard. He will be remembered fondly for his contributions to the Belfer Center and for his practical and pragmatic guidance on the International Council. Rest in Peace.”

Mariana Budjeryn, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center

“Ash Carter was one of those exceedingly rare individuals who had the competence and the confidence to think big. In the 1990s, he was one of the chief architects and implementers the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program that helped secure military and civilian nuclear facilities and materials, amid the chaos and destitution, in the countries of the former Soviet Union. We forget how extraordinarily innovative—and controversial— the idea of cooperating with the recent arch enemy was when first conceived in 1991. Yet in the end, CTR helped avert what could have been the single largest wave of nuclear proliferation in history. He thought that the United States, its allies, and the international rule-based order should be secured through good governance and technological prowess, while reliance on nuclear weapons was a sign of weakness, not strength. The loss of Ash is particularly painful given the present historical moment when his insight and integrity are needed most.”

Grace Park, Belfer Young Leader Student Fellow, MPP 2023 

“[Ash Carter’s] active and enduring service to Harvard punctuates just how sudden his death has felt. As his shocking loss reverberates, the depth of my regret deepens further. Had I thanked him, would I have been brave enough to share just how difficult those years integrating the combat arms were? Would it have mattered to him that despite my experiences, I still support and defend his decision? I’ll never know.

But I know I will never again miss the opportunity to thank my heroes.”

(Read the complete tribute in The Boston Globe here.)

Arsen Fazlovic, Harvard Kennedy School (MPA) Student & Course Assistant for Ash Carter, Fall 2022 

“Why did you hire me? I asked Secretary Carter. Because when he chose me as his head course assistant, I was very surprised: As his student, I had been deeply skeptical (and stubborn) about many of his positions and arguments presented in the classroom. For example, we would clash over nuclear security - And I would emerge from our debate battered and bruised. We would clash over the safety of artificial intelligence—Again, he would sink my ship in front of the whole class. We would clash over the Yugoslav Wars—And again, we never overcame our disagreements to the amusement of the classroom audience. So, when he asked me to work for him, I asked: ‘Sir, why? I had a feeling I was getting on your nerves’. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘and I need you to continue doing that’.

That was the greatness and generosity of his character. Ash Carter war a teacher, a mentor and a father figure to me. I am privileged that I could learn from him. I am honored that I worked for him. I am grateful that he made me a better leader and public servant. Thank you, Secretary.”

Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor; Belfer Center Board of Directors; former President, Harvard University

“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.”

DJ Patil, former U.S. Chief Data Scientist

“How does one sum up the impact of someone like SecDef Ash Carter? Simply put, you can’t.

There are the notable items from his background that will make you feel instantly inadequate including degrees in both physics and medieval history from Yale. A Rhodes Scholar and doctorate in theoretical physics. He held every major role at the Pentagon, making him the most qualified Secretary of Defense we have ever had. Five time recipient of the highest medal the Department of Defense bestows on a civilian. A professor with a list of students who have become the who’s who of public service. Author of 11 books and more than 100 major articles. Amazing husband and father. And that’s just the start.

See what I mean when I say feeling inadequate?

The statements from President Biden and President Obama give you a glimpse into the impact SecDef Carter had on them and the world. But there is so much more.

What I can tell you is there is no one that has had a bigger impact on me in the last decade than Ash Carter. I don’t say that lightly. Especially since I have been incredibly privileged to have worked with so many amazing people. 

I wasn’t supposed to work with SecDef Carter. In fact, initially, President Obama made it explicitly clear that I was supposed to stay away from my roots in national security and just focus on domestic policy. But, that didn’t last long. I had worked with SecDef Carter’s wife, Stephanie, many years before, and early in my time as U.S. Chief Data Scientist, I ran into them while they were walking their dog outside their apartment. And before I knew it, I was on his plane for the first trip a SecDef had made to Silicon Valley in 20 years. Little did I know that that trip began my front row seat to the leadership lessons from one of the greatest SecDefs ever and the beginnings of the transformation of the Pentagon.”

(Read the complete tribute here.)

Stephen Shaya, M.D., Managing Director of Akkad Holdings, International Council Member

“My family and I wanted to send our deepest condolences to the family of Former Secretary of Defense and Harvard Belfer Center Director Ash Carter. We lost him this past week. He was a true patriot and lived a life of service and meaning for our country. As a member of the International Council at the Harvard Belfer Center, had the honor of meeting him and this reminded me of great quote from Woodrow Wilson that exemplified his life. ‘There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.’”

"Pug" Winokur, Long-time friend; International Council Member

“I met Ash via my college suitemate Dick Darman in the late 1990s. We worked together on projects, such as ‘Keeping The Edge'—a great learning experience for me. I also was fortunate to be a partner with Ash in Global Technology Partners in the early 2000s, and then to keep in touch during his DoD and Belfer careers. Each was a learning experience for me and each set a standard for how to inspire, lead, and include. I will miss him.”

Anne Karalekas, Fellow, Applied History Project, Belfer Center

“Underpinning Ash's legacies in policy, public service, and teaching were the values that he espoused and lived, among them:

• Dedication to the betterment of others is the noblest thing one can do with one’s life.

• The opportunity to contribute to matters of consequence is a privilege.

• Civility, adherence to the truth, and comportment are the bedrock principles of personal conduct.”

Karl Kaiser, Senior Fellow, Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship, Belfer Center

“Communicating with Ash was always a rewarding experience. Whatever the cause he always conveyed a complete engagement to you as a person, listening and carefully weighing your arguments. As somebody of European descent I greatly appreciated his conviction that strong political and security links with Europe were essential not only for America’s but also the West’s future and that this always shaped his public service.”

Morgan Kaplan, former Executive Editor of International Security Journal, Belfer Center

“The magnitude of our loss is impossible to process. Ash Carter was our brilliant leader, and I’ll never forget how he energized and elevated an entire room with his presence. His passion for scholarship and his love for the Belfer Center made us all lucky to share in his vision. My heart and condolences are with Secretary Carter’s family and our Belfer community.”

Ben Heineman, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center

“I only knew Ash from the middle distance. But he always struck me as a storied exemplar of a vital Kennedy School trait: taking superb academic analysis to key public sector jobs to improve the public weal— and then taking superb public service experience back to the academy to enliven and enrich his analytic insights. This iterative process and iterative career is an essence of the Kennedy School. And, it seemed, that in this, as in so many other ways, Ash was without peer.”

Greg Honan, HKS Alum; former Belfer Center Student Fellow

“The Belfer Center was my home at HKS, something I know many other students felt, too. Secretary Carter was the linchpin that made it that way. It's hard to imagine the third-floor hallways without Secretary Carter walking around and stopping to talk to students.

My favorite memory of Secretary Carter is also probably the least serious moment I had with him. I was sitting outside a third floor classroom, answering emails and listening to music on my headphones. I saw someone stop in front of me, bend over, and starting talking. I took off my headphones to find Secretary Carter picking up a $20 bill someone had dropped. He looked at me, put the $20 bill on a table, and said, ‘Hey, have you heard the joke about the economist and the $20 bill?’ I had not. He said, ‘Well, an economist was walking down the street with a friend when the friend stopped to say, 'Hey look, there's a $20 bill on the ground.' The economist turned and said, 'There's no way. If there was money on the ground, someone else would have already picked it up.'

I laughed in disbelief, knowing that my professor and a former secretary of defense had just told one of the corniest dad jokes I'd ever heard. I now see that moment as reflective of a much larger truth I noticed throughout his class sessions and events. Secretary Carter was a great teacher because wrapped up shrewd, deliberative insights in wit, dry humor, and a genuine joy for being with his students. We were so lucky. My heart goes out to his family and the thousands he taught, mentored, and supported along the way.”

Sam Yoon, President, HKS Student Government 

“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.”

Abia S. Khan, Student, Harvard College

“Ash Carter was a remarkable human being. Beyond his intellect and brilliance, his kindness and humility were truly something to be admired. Through everything he did, he made the world a better place, and we will forever be in debt to him.

Secretary Carter inspired so many through his leadership, courage, and selflessness. There was never a moment where I doubted Secretary Carter's commitment to us, his students. He wholeheartedly loved being in the classroom and teaching, and his investment in our success was evident. While he's no longer with us, Ash Carter's legacy will continue to live on through the countless lives he touched.

I wish I had more time with him, but I'm incredibly grateful for the time and space I could share with him. I'm thankful for all the memories, stories, and every laugh and smile we exchanged.

I miss him deeply, and his passing is a tragic loss for Harvard and the country.”

Crystal Rugege, MC/MPA 2023

“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.”

Alison Hillegeist, Associate Director, Middle East Initiative, Belfer Center

“I didn't work closely with Secretary Carter, and did not know him well. But I do know what a force multiplier he was for the Center and the School. Most of all, he was a cherished teacher, advisor, mentor, and friend to hundreds of students and staff. It is a gutting loss for Harvard and generations of future leaders. My deepest sympathies to the students, colleagues, and most of all, his beloved Stephanie and children who lost him too soon.”

Sarah Donahue, Associate Director of Operations, Belfer Center

“Over the last few days, I have reflected on the legacy of Secretary Ash Carter. The tributes and stories are heartfelt and reinforce a larger-than-life figure. As a community, we feel the collective loss of a great mind, a forward-thinking leader, and a compassionate and thoughtful mentor. His passion to learn and engage showed the breadth of his intellect, whether it was on Russia’s potential use of nuclear weapons or the future of life-saving nanotechnology. Ash always wanted to learn more. At the start of the semester, he had a newfound energy and was excited for the Belfer community to ‘return to normal,’ he was energized by his students, the TAPP fellows, and his team. This past September, he hosted President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the JFK Jr. Forum. Zelenskyy was virtual up on a screen and Ash was at ease on stage. It was a full circle moment: early in his career he worked on the Nunn-Lugar legislation, and then as Assistant Secretary for Defense for International Security Policy, he worked on the denuclearization of Ukraine. He often shared the story of planting sunflowers at the decommissioning of missile bases around Ukraine. This act, and the sunflower, holds great significance to this day. The thread lines that connected Zelenskyy and Ash were the preservation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, but more importantly, their unrelenting commitment to reducing the threat of a nuclear war. The Forum with Zelenskyy and Ash was an example of what made Belfer and HKS a special place. The symbolism of that moment, the commitment to the greater good and the public purpose was Ash’s guiding light. On a personal level, one of the things I appreciated about Ash was his uncanny ability to make me laugh. Many times this was unintentional. For those that were able to catch a one-liner, you understand. At Belfer dark topics are common, our nation's security drives our work, but laughter and irony keep the Center moving forward. Ash understood that. For many of us at Belfer, we won’t hear his voice in the halls, he won’t drop by my office to check in on me, we won’t hear him talking about the ‘chow’ or saying, ‘Hi Brother’ or ‘Hey Pal.’ Belfer will just feel different. He was kind and grateful, and he recognized my contributions and those of the many people here at the Belfer Center. He verbalized his thanks on many occasions. We shared a connection to the mission of Belfer and the work to support the next generation of policymakers and leaders.”

Ashlie L. Burkart, Associate, Environmental and Natural Resources Program; former Nonresident TAPP Fellow; Chief Scientific Officer, Germin8 Ventures 

“Devastating and heartbreaking news about the sudden loss of Secretary Ash Carter. My condolences to the Harvard Belfer Center community and Ash’s family.

I am grateful to have worked under Ash's skillful guidance as a Technology and Public Purpose Nonresident Fellow. Ash leaves behind a profound legacy of working to ensure that emerging technologies are developed and managed in ways that serve the public good.

When I think of Ash, I think of the color red. Why? My first phone conversation with Ash was on my red landline phone. I was tickled by the fact I was talking the 25th Secretary of Defense about his physics background – and the social responsibilities he leaned from his mentors who worked for the Manhattan project – on a phone that resembled the “red phone” portrayed in pop culture as a famous form of communication within the White House during the cold war era. Ash was also under the impression I only had red in my wardrobe, so wearing red for Belfer events became part of the ongoing narrative. I have an awesome appreciation of the enormous privilege it was to know Ash. Pictured here is a humbling moment when Ash provided the opening remarks for a Belfer Center event I hosted on regenerative agriculture.

Wish I had one last opportunity to say thank you in person. I am wearing red in your honor today, Sir! May our hearts mend while the memories of Ash stay strong.”

Akhil Iyer, Ash Carter Course Assistant; Belfer Young Leader Student Fellow, MPP 2023

“Professor Carter was not just an incredible teacher with invaluable insights on all aspects of technology and security. He also cared deeply about his students and their families. During this past academic year while serving as one of Professor Carter's Course Assistants, my wife and I welcomed our first child, a baby boy. Professor Carter was ecstatic, and we devised a plan for our son to make a surprise visit to the last spring class session. It was an incredible memory; the class began with discussions on the future of national security policy, and ended with my baby boy Kiran in Professor Carter's arms. I hope that all of us, including my young son, can live up to the legacy and selfless service of our inspirational professor.”

Poorva Kaushik, Belfer Young Leader Student Fellow, MPP 2023

“I will always remember the day when I first met Secretary Ash Carter at the orientation for Belfer Young Leader fellows last year. I was already his fan for his contribution to opening combat jobs for women in the military and ending a ban on transgender people serving in the military.

However, meeting him in person, I realized how he was also so warm and gentle. I still remember his answer to one of the fellow's questions. Upon being asked how we (Belfer Young Leaders) can ensure success like his in our careers, he said 'I do not chase success. I followed my heart and kept studying the subjects I thought were important for society's welfare. Success was the by-product.'

As a new entrant from the nuclear field into the policy, his answer keeps me motivated, assuring me if I remain passionate about the cause, I will be able to carve my path. My heart is with you in your time of sorrow. Secretary Ash Carter will be greatly missed, but his wisdom, warmth, kindness, and gentle spirit will be remembered forever.”

Paul-Etienne Pini, Belfer Young Leader Student Fellow, MPP 2023

“When I think of Ash Carter, the first things I remember are his caring smile, his warm voice, and his unwavering confidence in our potential as aspiring young leaders in public policy. Even though I only knew him briefly, I was impressed by his intellectual rigor, his decision-making style, his integrity, and beyond that, his great simplicity. Despite his impressive career and experience, Ash Carter was indeed someone you could discuss freely with; someone who made you feel comfortable, listened to, understood. Ash Carter is the person who founded the Belfer Young Leader Fellowship, without which I could not have gone to Harvard. I am also inspired by his life trajectory, especially the way he embodied the linkages between science and policy responsibilities. Such interdisciplinarity should become more of a model for future public officials. For this, as for everything else, Ash Carter will live on through the generations he has guided.”

Mari Dugas, former Belfer Center Staff Member

“It is difficult to articulate the impact Ash Carter had on the Belfer Center. I was fortunate to work for him for two years, and in that time, his influence was palpable. He brought a kindness and renewed energy to the Belfer Center from day one. I think you can tell someone's character by how they treat their staff members, and Ash Carter led by example. He set the tone for the entire Center, greeting every single staff member by name and cultivating a renewed sense of team amongst us. His dedication to us went so far that when the time came for me to apply to law school, he immediately agreed to be one of my recommenders (I certainly didn't have a former Secretary of Defense writing my law school recommendation on my bingo card!). I will remember Ash Carter by the groundbreaking, world changing things he did in his government career, but more than that, I will remember his commitment to building a team and a community at the Belfer Center, and imparting his leadership and wisdom to inspire us all to go out and change the world. He will be missed by us all.”

Mike Miesen, former Research Assistant, Technology and Public Purpose Project, Belfer Center

“In myriad remembrances about Secretary Carter, many have noted how brilliant he was, how dedicated he was to public service, and how much he loved teaching the next generation of leaders. 

All of that is self-evidently true. But what I'll remember most was how kind he was, to me and to many others. 

As just one example of his kindness, among many: Ash was an extraordinary supporter of ‘his people’—those of us who worked for him at one point or another. He went out of his way to help us. A month or two ago—over a year after I stopped working for him at the Belfer Center to take a role in government—I was at a crossroads in my career, and asked him for help thinking through my next steps. He took time out of his very busy schedule to listen, asked smart questions, and patiently walked me towards the path that he and I both knew was right for me. 

Recently, after I thanked him for doing me a favor, he wrote back: ‘Great brother. We miss you.’ Another act of kindness.

To me, that exemplifies who Ash was: both a ‘Great Man’ in the public sphere and a good, decent man in private. What a privilege it was to work for him and be mentored by him.”

Katy Ramirez Karp, Senior Talent Producer, CNBC's Squawk Box

“I’m so incredibly sorry to hear the news of Secretary Carter’s passing. 

When he was in our greenroom prior to his Squawk Box appearance, during his book tour, we spoke at length.  He struck me as a very thoughtful, considerate person who took the time to greet everyone, learn their names. He even asked about my daughter, who was a gymnast, and he shared that he was once, too. The next time he came on Squawk Box, about a year or so later, he remembered to ask about her again. 

His work was truly admirable, marrying technology & progress with a responsible conscience. We need more like him. He was truly a gentleman and a scholar. He will be missed.”

Bethan Saunders, MPP, Belfer Young Leader Fellow, IGA 282 Course Assistant

“Although my time knowing him was far too short, Secretary Ash Carter had an outsized impact on my life. He inspired and encouraged me to pursue a career dedicated to serving others. Through his mentorship, I felt empowered and confident to embrace the challenges and opportunities of a public service career. I knew him as Professor Carter and had the privilege of taking both his classes, working with him as my PAE advisor, and serving as his course assistant for his upcoming spring course. As my advisor, he encouraged me to dream big and pursue impactful research. He taught me how to think creatively and boldly and to pursue complex problems.

As his student, I learned to be curious – always ask questions, always chase new knowledge. Professor Carter encouraged us to never shy away from something we don’t know or understand. Through his class and mentorship, I am better prepared for a career addressing some of our country’s most challenging policy problems. Secretary Carter was also dedicated to empowering students and elevating young and diverse voices in national security. I am incredibly grateful for his support of Women in Defense, Diplomacy, and Development (W3D), a student organization at HKS. He was an enthusiastic advocate of W3D’s mission to empower women pursuing careers in national security. We could not ask for a better ally.

Professor Carter’s care for his students was undeniably clear. He was committed to fostering and teaching us to be emphatic and thoughtful leaders. Not only did he take the time to learn about our professional aspirations – his first question during office hours was always, ‘How can I help you?’– Professor Carter cared about his students as people. He wanted to hear about our personal lives, families, and backgrounds. Professor Carter was a truly exceptional professor and mentor.

This is a tragic loss for Harvard’s Belfer Center, the Harvard Kennedy School community, and the country. We have lost a brilliant professor, leader, and advocate. His legacy will live on in his profound impact on a generation of students and future leaders. I will be forever grateful and honored for the opportunity to be his student and learn from his wisdom, kindness, and commitment to a life of service.”

Emily O'Toole, Research Assistant, Belfer Center

“This year, the Belfer Center had a big welcome orientation for the staff, faculty, and fellows. We were all buzzing about kicking off the year in-person. Ash captured this sentiment in his opening remarks. I was helping our operations team run the trivia portion of the event by keeping score for a section of tables in the room. A couple other RAs and fellows that I’ve gotten to know over the last year were seated at one of my tables, and when they got an answer wrong, I made a fairly loud buzzer sound like the one that goes off when a contestant answers incorrectly in a game show. They laughed, and laughing along with them I heard someone familiar but definitely unexpected. I looked up from my score sheet to see Ash giggling away with the other people at his table, most of which were fellows and staff. While running between tables I hadn't noticed that the former Secretary of Defense was at this particular table - or else I probably would not have responded in that manner! I’m lucky that Ash had a great sense of humor (and I seriously doubt that he didn't know the answer to the question, or to any of the questions). Fortunately, those of us that have worked at Belfer under Ash have had the incredible privilege of not only learning from him, but also getting to know him as a person and a leader. I know I am not alone in wishing we had more time for all three.”

Sharon Wilke, Acting Director of Communications, Belfer Center

“When I began at the Belfer Center in 2003, Ash was here as Co-Director of the Preventive Defense Project (with William Perry at Stanford), working on ways to prevent nuclear and other dangers. On the first day of his return to the Belfer Center in 2017, when I welcomed him back, he said something like, ‘With you here, I know it will go well.’ I was moved, but that’s the Ash I knew—tuned into the person he was talking to and with a personal, positive attitude. I will miss him as a person and as a local and global leader.”

Stephen Larrick, ‘21 - ‘22 Technology and Public Purpose Fellow

“Secretary Carter was generous with his time and attention (especially for someone of his stature) and brought his earnest feedback to research fellows sharing their work. He actually read what we wrote, and he shared what he thought. This included a particular, candid conversational style and set of (sometimes old-times) colloquialism that I mostly understood and always appreciated. In one exchange I remember he provided the feedback “that’s dog bites man news, not man bites dog news” which was a phrase I had never heard before, but gathered meant “what is unexpected or attention grabbingly memorable about your research findings?”. It was a turn of phrase that stood out enough for me that I sketched it in my notebook (see attached image), and have since begun using it fondly. Secretary Carter’s was a “man-bites dog” career and life: it will be remembered.”

Gretchen Bartlett, International & Global Affairs Area Manager, HKS; former Faculty Assistant to Ash Carter 1997-2001; former Associate Director, Preventive Defense Project 2001-2009; and former Senior Associate Director, Technology and Public Purpose Project 2017-2019


Marking the seasons and life’s personal and professional milestones together with Ash Carter has been the opportunity and honor of a lifetime. 

Early on it was clear we shared a love of Maine. My first hint at this came when alongside pictures of his two beautiful children Ava and Will, I espied a lobster pull-toy perched on a shelf in his office. During a grueling first interview a quarter century ago, it was the wooden lobster which calmed my nerves. 

That pull-toy, Maine really, proved one of our few shared touchstones. He loved the ocean and so looked forward to darting from one remote island to another, family in tow, every August. 

Secretly, I looked forward to those August weeks even more -- as I was finally able to take my well-earned vacation time then as well. We occasionally sent each other cards thanking one another for a good year during our summer vacations. Here is an excerpt from one I sent to him back in 2004, after a particularly hard year -- a year which first brought him to my doorstep bearing a Christmas cactus in November, only to be met by my mother who noted I was not receiving visitors; and which later sent me to Bermuda in May on his frequent flyer miles for much needed healing and vitamin D:

Somehow, it’s hard for me to believe another year has come and gone and that ‘la rentrée’ is right around the corner. Sort of strange to still be on an academic calendar at 40! September will bring my first annual screening for you-know-what. Yikes! Has it really been a year of this nonsense? As I assess this past year, beyond the usual admiration for your work ethic and brilliance and sense of satisfaction I have supporting you in your pursuits, there's a huge sense of gratitude - gratitude for being such a wonderful boss and friend through this ordeal. I simply cannot imagine how I would have fared without your continued kindness and support. I hope, some day, to be able to return the favor, in kind. But, for now, let me simply thank you for another year in your employ as well as your consideration over these months.

It is as a loving family man and friend, not as the 25th Secretary of Defense, that I shall most fondly remember him. I deeply regret never having had the opportunity to return the favor, in kind.

Sail on, Ash. Qui aime bien, taquine bien.”

Helena H. Rong, Technology and Public Purpose Fellow 2022-23

“I am extremely fortunate for having had the chance to get mentored by Sec. Ash Carter for the Technology and Public Purpose fellowship. I still remember vividly the first day I met Ash during our one-on-one meeting. It was nerve-wrecking at first to walk into his office with no idea of what to expect. But his warm welcome and the support he has shown quickly cleared away all anxieties. I remember him saying, “Let us know where you want to go and we will help you figure out how to get there!” I still remember the sense of empowerment I felt after leaving his office, and the encouragement he gave me has meant so much to this day. That being said, Ash also had a lot of points of disagreement with me regarding my work and asked really tough questions. Nonetheless, he was open to listening and engaging in a fair debate and always remembered to end the conversation with a pat on the back and cheer-leading style words of encouragement. And for me, It was always something to look forward to - to give him an update on the work in the next meeting and to exchange ideas with him on the topic of technology and public purpose that all of us cared so deeply about.

As a leader, his dedication, sense of mission, voracious curiosity, and tireless efforts in making the world a better place are deeply inspiring and infectious. And as a person, his warmth, generosity, patience to listen, willingness to help are rare and precious qualities that remind us to be genuine and keep our feet on the ground. It is an honor for me to have had such a role model in my life who exemplifies all the above qualities and who has lived up to these standards on anything he did in life. I cannot thank him enough for giving me the opportunity to become part of the TAPP family. His departure is truly a loss for our community. May we commemorate his spirit and legacy by carrying forth the visions and values he stood for. My heart goes out to his family, colleagues, friends, students, and anyone whose life has been touched by his presence.”

H. Eric Fenn Elbot, C.E.O. Veritas Scientific Corp. / HKS NEAA Board of Directors

“Ash Carter, among so many wonderful qualities mentioned by others, was a leader of authentic integrity, and personal honor and always placed America's best interests above his own. I briefed him before his Congressional confirmation for his Under Secretary role about the various private contractor strategies in the national security acquisition and technology 'game.'

As the Director of a national security think-tank for the IC and DoD, I had an insider networked perspective of Ash Carter's DoD leadership. I know Ash to be the best role model of intelligently honorable public service that I have encountered since I first played the grey zone in the Jimmy Carter administration. We will greatly miss Ash's wisdom in the China paradigm shift, but thankfully he shaped well our best Biden Team players in that realm. It was my honor to be one of the many 'unimportant' players whom Ash Carter always treated with dignity and respect. 

So many will miss you, Professor Carter: journey well.”

Bogdan Belei, former Fellow, Technology and Public Purpose Project, Belfer Center

“When I first started working for Secretary Carter, I was intimidated by his stature. It took me a couple months to walk into his office and feel comfortable briefing him before an interview or talking through a work product. He maintained his guard because he demanded excellence and I maintained mine to prove that I could deliver. Our relationship changed as we established rapport. He began to trust me as a confidante, which emboldened me to always offer my candid opinion and take pride in my convictions. And I began to learn more about Ash Carter.

He was honest, even when it didn’t benefit his bottom line. He didn’t tolerate nonsense, self-promotion, or selling out. He was deeply curious, even when he had already learned so much. He was ‘caught' reading a book about bolts on a trip to a high-tech laboratory. He was truly hilarious, even when it was often at my own expense. More than once, his bellowing laughter at his own joke had me laughing along with tears streaming down my face.

But most of all, he was deeply responsible. He took all of his obligations seriously — as a partner to his wife Stephanie, as a teacher to his many students, and as a public servant to the American people. When I left Belfer, he said ‘I will always stand behind you… I want you to stay in touch with me so I can always help you.’ A self-imposed obligation. He meant it, and I believed him.

Ash was a model figure in many respects. While he had plenty more to offer this world, he sowed the seeds of decency and public purpose in both his peers and the next generation. It is now our responsibility to carry his ethos forward.”

David Ellwood, former Harvard Kennedy School Dean and Professor

“For most of his adult life, Ash saw that our people and our nations faced existential threats to our most fundamental values and even to our very existence. Fortunately, as much as anyone I have ever known, he believed and demonstrated that thoughtful, well trained people had the capacity and responsibility to face down these threats. He was a deep thinker and an aggressive doer. When he tackled an issue, he had a laser guided intensity, working to ensure he understood all the elements he possibly could, and looked at multiple strategy and plotted out possible outcomes. Others have described his exceptional almost unbelievable contributions to national security far better than I can. It is hard to imagine anyone in this most partisan of eras, who did not respect and take seriously his ideas and insights. And he would talk with anyone wise enough to genuinely seek honest answers. When Ash spoke, people listened.

I can speak personally mostly about Ash as a teacher and leader at HKS. I had the opportunity to teach policy analysis with Ash, early in our careers, and he dug into teaching students about potential Food Stamp reform as ambitiously as he did about national security and nuclear proliferation. And yes, he really did love to read physics test books to rejuvenate and relax.

I came to admire Ash as much as anyone who has ever been affiliated with the Kennedy School. Well beyond his massive individual contributions, he preached and taught and practiced the fundamental mission of the Kennedy School and the essential nature of public service. He was immensely proud of the myriad of students throughout government that he connected with, particularly in the national security domain where the Belfer Center has had so much impact throughout the years. And I have no doubt that when Dean Elmendorf asked Ash to take on leadership of the Center it was an easy sell, for it was a labor of love for a true public servant. Ash Carter is irreplaceable for the School, the nation, and the world. Fortunately, he leaves a very bright torch for those who follow.”

Gregory Treverton, former HKS colleague; former Chair, National Intelligence Council 

“It has been a sad pleasure to read the tributes to Ash, and I cannot add to them.  We were colleagues when I taught at the Kennedy School, then colleagues, though not close ones in both the Clinton and Obama administration, when I was Vice Chair and Chair of the National Intelligence Council.  Other than a wonderful intellect, what struck me about Ash were two things:  he was unfailingly good humored -- as least so far as I could tell! -- and his commitment to the public interest and public service was a model for all Americans.  As many people said in different ways, we were lucky to have gotten to know him and to have served with him. ”


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Remembering Ash Carter.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, November 2, 2022.