William Colby

William Egan Colby (1920 - 1996)

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William Egan Colby
Born in St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, United Statesmap
Ancestors ancestors
[sibling(s) unknown]
[spouse(s) unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Rock Point, Charles, Maryland, United Statesmap
Profile manager: Mark Burch private message [send private message]
Profile last modified | Created 20 Jul 2018 | Last significant change: 1 Dec 2018
20:15: Mark Burch edited the Biography for William Egan Colby (1920-1996). [Thank Mark for this]
This page has been accessed 145 times.

Categories: Notables.

William Colby is Notable.


Preceded by
Vernon Walters
Director of Central Intelligence

William Egan Colby

Succeeded by
George H. W. Bush

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of Elbridge Colby, an army officer and educator, and Margaret Mary Egan Colby, an ardent Catholic. His grandfather, Charles Colby, had been a professor of chemistry at Columbia University but had died prematurely. William Colby attended public high school in Burlington, Vermont, and then Princeton University, graduating in 1940 and entering Columbia Law School the following year. In 1941 William joined the U.S. Army and in 1943 the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS trained him for special missions, and he served behind enemy lines in France and Norway. In an effort to prevent German troops from being redeployed through Norway to be used against advancing Allied forces in Germany, he led the raid to destroy the Tangen railroad bridge--a daring and spectacular success, though the bridge was soon rebuilt. He married Barbara Heinzen in 1945 and they had five children. In 1984, he divorced Barbara and married Democratic diplomat Sally Shelton-Colby. He obtained a law degree from Columbia University in 1947, the same year that Congress approved the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). After working for a short time in a law firm, William joined the new agency. He served in Stockholm from 1951 to 1953 and then in Rome from 1953 to 1958, where he helped to arrange the secret subsidization of political parties to prevent communist electoral victories. William was CIA station chief in Saigon from 1959 to 1962 and headed the agency's Far East division from 1962 to 1967. Then from 1968 to 1971 he directed the Phoenix program in South Vietnam, which sought to identify and eliminate communist activists (the Viet Cong) at the village level.

William returned to Washington and became executive director of CIA. After long-time DCI Richard Helms was dismissed by President Nixon in 1973, James Schlesinger assumed the helm at the Agency. William, who had had a somewhat unorthodox career in the CIA focused on political action and counterinsurgency, agreed with Schlesinger's reformist approach. Schlesinger appointed him head of the clandestine branch in early 1973. When Nixon reshuffled his agency heads and made Schlesinger secretary of defense, William emerged as a natural candidate for DCI. His tenure as DCI, which lasted two and a half tumultuous years, was overshadowed by the Frank Church and Pike congressional investigations into alleged U.S. intelligence wrong doing over the preceding 25 years, including 1975, the so-called Year of Intelligence. He had resumed legal practice and lectured widely, taking up a new cause--the campaign for a freeze on nuclear arms. On a spring day in 1996, William went down to the waterfront near his weekend home in Rock Point, Maryland, and launched his canoe into a stiff breeze. William died in what appears to be a boating accident near his home in Rock Point, Maryland. There was speculation that his death was due to foul play or suicide. Until his body was found several days later with no evident signs of foul play, the fate of the man whose manner of death seemed to conjure up the enigma of his life. The Maryland state coroner, however, ruled that William had suffered either a heart attack or a stroke owing to a discernible plaque buildup in his arteries, and had fallen into the water and drowned. He was 76 years old.

His 8th GGFs were Puritan immigrants Anthony Colby and William Sargent Sr.. His 6th GGF Johan Bonesteel (Bohnestiehl) came from Germany, his 7th GGF Henry Tewksbury was English and his grandfather WIlliam Egan was Irish.



"United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K7S5-QM2 : accessed 22 July 2018), William Colby in household of Elbridge Colby, Tract 6, District of Columbia, Police Precinct 8, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 1-288, sheet 20B, line 56, family 480, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 562.

"New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:24LF-F5Y : 12 March 2018), William E Colby, 1939; citing Immigration, New York, New York, United States, NARA microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).


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No known carriers of William's ancestors' Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA have taken yDNA or mtDNA tests and no close relatives have taken a 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA "Family Finder" test.

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Bill Colby
Bill Colby


William is 28 degrees from Sharon Caldwell, 22 degrees from Burl Ives and 23 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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