Charles Burke Elbrick

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Charles Burke Elbrick
53rd United States Ambassador to Portugal
In office
January 13, 1959 – August 31, 1963
Preceded by James C. H. Bonbright
Succeeded by George W. Anderson, Jr.
14th United States Ambassador to Yugoslavia
In office
March 17, 1964 – April 28, 1969
Preceded by George F. Kennan
Succeeded by William Leonhart
37th United States Ambassador to Brazil
In office
July 14, 1969 – May 7, 1970
Preceded by John W. Tuthill
Succeeded by William M. Rountree
Personal details
Born March 25, 1908
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Died April 12, 1983(1983-04-12) (aged 75)
Washington DC
Profession Career Diplomat

Charles Burke Elbrick, (March 25, 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky – April 12, 1983 in Washington, D.C.), was a United States diplomat and career foreign service officer. During his career, he served three ambassadorships: in Portugal, Yugoslavia and Brazil, in addition to numerous minor postings.

Elbrick spoke Portuguese, Spanish, French and German, and was regarded as an expert on Iberia and Eastern Europe after World War II.

Early life and education[edit]

Elbrick was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Charles Elbrick and his Irish wife Lillian Burke, and reared Roman Catholic. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College in 1929, narrowly missing selection for a Rhodes Scholarship. He studied languages to prepare for a career in the foreign service.

Foreign service career[edit]

Having joined the United States Foreign Service in 1931, Elbrick was initially appointed Vice Consul in Panama. He next served in Haiti, and then acted as Third Secretary in Warsaw, Poland. In 1939, Elbrick followed the Polish government into exile after the invasion by the German Nazi army. While leaving Warsaw in convoy, their cars were strafed by German planes.

After the war, Elbrick returned to Poland in June 1945 to reopen the US Embassy. He served as Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 1951.

He was promoted to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in 1957. Thereafter, Ambassador Elbrick was variously the representative of the United States to Portugal (1958), Yugoslavia (1964), and Brazil (1969).

In August 1968, when Soviet-led forces invaded Czechoslovakia, Elbrick, then Ambassador in Belgrade, was summoned by Marshal Tito and asked about United States policy toward Yugoslavia. "The same as always", Elbrick said. "To support Yugoslav independence and integrity. Do you need any help?" "Not now", said Tito, thanking Ambassador Elbrick for inquiring.[citation needed]

A year later, while stationed in Brazil, Elbrick was kidnapped on September 4, 1969, and held for 78 hours by the Revolutionary Movement 8th October (MR-8) in Rio de Janeiro, being released in exchange for the government's release of fifteen political prisoners. The kidnapping occurred as a means to bring media attention to the repression, imprisonment and torture of Brazilian citizens by the Brazilian military regime. Ambassador Elbrick remarked, "Being an ambassador is not always a bed of roses."[citation needed]

In 1969, he was honored by the President of the United States with the four-star rank of Career Ambassador. Following his retirement in 1973, Elbrick was awarded the Foreign Service Cup.


He married Elvira Lindsay Johnson (1910–1990) at St. Matthew's Cathedral, Washington DC, on July 27, 1932 in a Catholic ceremony. Elvira was the daughter of Caroline (Gilbert) and Alfred Wilkinson Johnson, later a Vice Admiral in the US Navy. Elvira's mother was a direct descendant of Abijah Gilbert, the founder of Gilbertsville, New York (1787). Her father was the son of Rear Admiral Philip Carrigan Johnson and the nephew of celebrated painter Eastman Johnson.

Elbrick and Elvira had two children: Alfred Johnson and Valerie Burke Elbrick. Both children married. Elbrick was survived by two sons of his daughter Valerie: Charles Burke Hanlon and Nicholas Hanlon; and four children of Alfred: Tristan, Sophie, Alexia, and Xanthe Elbrick, an actress.


Ambassador Elbrick was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry. He was knighted in the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (Sovereign Military Order of Malta)[1] by the Prince and Grand Master, Fra' Angelo de Mojana di Cologna. He was also knighted in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Order of the Holy Sepulchre)[2] by the Grand Master Maximilian, Cardinal de Furstenberg.

Representation in popular culture[edit]

  • The events of Ambassador Elbrick's abduction in Brazil were recounted by Fernando Gabeira in his 1979 memoir, O Que É Isso Companheiro? (in English: What's This, Comrade?). The former member of revolutionary cell MR-8 had become a journalist and elected congressman in Brazil's Green Party.
  • The 1997 Brazilian film, Four Days in September, was based on Gabeira's memoir. It was directed by Bruno Barreto, featuring Alan Arkin as Ambassador Elbrick, with Pedro Cardoso and Fisher Stevens.


Elbrick died April 15, 1983, aged 75, at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. His funeral was held at St. Matthew's Cathedral, Washington D.C. His obituary in The New York Times described him as "a tall, slender man of suave demeanor in exquisite suits...[who]...showed dash and bravery in moments of crisis".[citation needed]

See also[edit]


Government offices
Preceded by
Livingston T. Merchant
Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs
February 14, 1957 – November 16, 1958
Succeeded by
Livingston T. Merchant