Remembering Frederick B. Dent
President Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce and President Ford’s Special Representative for the United States Trade Negotiations died on Dec. 10 in Spartanburg, S.C. He was 97.
A respected business leader who advocated free trade and an end to most protectionist tariffs, Mr. Dent was commerce secretary from 1973 to 1975, bridging the Nixon and Ford administrations. He became Ford’s trade representative, with cabinet and ambassadorial rank, from 1975 to 1977.
In 1969, he was appointed to a Nixon administration commission, headed by Thomas S. Gates Jr., a former defense secretary in the Eisenhower administration, that concluded that the national interest would not be adversely affected by ending the military draft and replacing it with all-volunteer armed forces. As the war in Vietnam wound down, conscription was officially ended in 1973.
Dent proved to be a spirited advocate of free trade, while accepting the need to protect sensitive sectors of the economy. Presiding over a department with 35,000 employees and a $2 billion budget, he traveled abroad often, generally seeking to break down tariff barriers and negotiate a freer flow of goods and services among the United States and its trading partners.
Frederick Baily Dent was born in Cape May, N.J., on Aug. 17, 1922, to Magruder and Edith (Baily) Dent. He grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., an Episcopal boarding school.
At Yale, Mr. Dent, an honor student, majored in government, played varsity football and hockey and, with academics compressed because of World War II, graduated in 1943. A member of the Naval Reserve, he joined the Navy and saw action in the Pacific as a lieutenant junior grade on patrol boats and landing craft that ferried troops to beachheads, including Okinawa’s in the final stages of the war.
In 1944, he married Mildred Harrison. They had five children. His wife died in 1997. Mr. Dent lived in Spartanburg.
Dent is survived by five children, 14 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.