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Sam Hamrick, RIP

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Sam Hamrick, RIP

This obit does not do Sam justice, but it is something at least, in the NYTimes. Sam was one of the greats of the Foreign Service in my time there, outspoken, ethical, serious, intelligent, humorous, reliable, and "not successful" for all of the wrong reasons. His passing depresses me. He redeemed himself with his wonderful post-retirement writing, which is covered somewhat in this obit. The wonderful people are passing on. Bob Keeley

March 10, 2008
Samuel J. Hamrick, Who Wrote as W. T. Tyler, Dies at 78

Samuel J. Hamrick, a former officer in the Foreign Service who, under the pseudonym W. T. Tyler, wrote spy novels about the adventures of burnt-out cases, died on Feb. 29 at his home in Boston, Va. He was 78.

The cause was colon cancer, said his companion, Nancy Ely-Raphel.

Mr. Hamrick, who served in United States embassies in Lebanon, Congo, Somalia and Ethiopia, published his first novel immediately after leaving the State Department in 1980. The novel, "The Man Who Lost the War" (Dial Press), tells the story of a disillusioned Central Intelligence Agency operative at the time of the Berlin Wall crisis in the early 1960s.

In his next novels, Mr. Hamrick turned his attention to the East-West proxy wars in Africa. "The Ants of God," also published by Dial, in 1981, is about an American mercenary in Sudan, and "Rogue's March," published the next year by Harper & Row, focuses on a traitorous intelligence officer in Congo based on Kim Philby, the notorious British counterspy.

"Rogue's March" was rejected by Mr. Hamrick's British publisher. That decision only reinforced the author's admitted anti-British attitudes, a predisposition reflected in his earlier decision to choose a pen name echoing Wat Tyler, the leader of a particularly bloody peasant rebellion in 14th-century England.

In 1984, Mr. Hamrick turned a critical eye on the Reagan administration and its nuclear policies in "The Shadow Cabinet" (Harper & Row), then returned the setting to Africa in "The Lion and the Jackal" (Linden Press/Simon & Schuster, 1988) and "The Consul's Wife" (Henry Holt, 1998), his last novel.

Critics over the years generally praised Mr. Hamrick's powers of description but sometimes found fault with his plotting.

Samuel Jennings Hamrick was born on Oct. 19, 1929, in Lubbock, Tex. A graduate of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, he served in the counterintelligence service of the Army.

In addition to Ms. Ely-Raphel, he is survived by his former wife, Joan Hamrick; their four children, Samuel III, John, Hugh and Anne Hamrick Burns; three sisters; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Hamrick did write one book under his own name, "Deceiving the Deceivers" (Yale Press, 2004), a revisionist history of the Philby spy case. In it, he argues that Mr. Philby and his four associates, who had been exposed in 1967 for passing top-secret information to the Soviets, had in fact been unwitting tools in a disinformation campaign staged by their superiors in British intelligence.

Still, Mr. Hamrick remained best known for his novels, whose covers often featured blurbs comparing him to the British writers John le Carré and Graham Greene. Those comparisons did not totally please him. As he said in a profile about him in The New York Times in 1984, he felt that both authors were hostile to Americans.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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