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George L. Sherry, Class of 1941
George L. Sherry, a former United Nations official who helped calm crises around the world — a role that evolved from his time as the leading rapid-fire translator of speeches by Russian diplomats in the organization’s early days — died in Manhattan on October 21, 2011. He was 87.
The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his daughter, Vivien Sherry Greenberg, said.
In the years just after the founding of the United Nations in 1945, when speeches from the lectern of the General Assembly and the Security Council were widely broadcast beyond the earphones of the diplomats on the floor, Mr. Sherry became known as the English-speaking voice of Andrei Y. Vishinsky, the Soviet delegate.
“Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Y. Vishinsky spoke yesterday in tones that were in quick succession impassioned, angry, sarcastic, sardonic, pleading and furious,” The New York Times reported on Sept. 19, 1947. “And the English translation came through the walkie-talkie sets in the General Assembly in tones that were just as impassioned, angry, sarcastic, sardonic, pleading and furious.”
It was Mr. Sherry who matched that 92-minute speech, a good deal of it delivered extemporaneously. (He would later translate speeches by Soviet officials like Anastas I. Mikoyan and Andrei A. Gromyko.)
At the time a 24-year-old graduate of City College in New York, Mr. Sherry would go on to a four-decade career at the United Nations, rising to assistant secretary general for special political affairs. For most of his career he worked beside two highly respected under secretary generals, Ralph J. Bunche and Sir Brian Urquhart, helping to organize mediation and peacekeeping missions.
In 1963, Mr. Sherry helped negotiate the entry of United Nations troops into what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, effectively ending a long war of secession in Katanga Province. A year later, he served as senior political adviser for peacekeeping forces in the Turkish-Greek struggle over Cyprus. When the second Indian-Pakistan war over Kashmir broke out in the fall of 1965, he was a member of the observation mission there. And in 1982, he was one of two Americans assigned to the task force created by Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to help bring an end to the Falklands war.
Mr. Sherry was director of the special political affairs department from 1978 until he was promoted to assistant secretary general in 1984. On Wednesday, Sir Brian called him an “indispensable member” of the team.
After retiring in 1985, Mr. Sherry became a professor of international studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles and the founding director of the college’s United Nations program, which brings students to New York to work as interns.
George Leon Sherry was born in Poland on Jan. 5, 1924, the only child of Leon and Henrietta Shershevsky. (The family, of Russian descent, changed its name after immigrating to the United States in 1939.) By the time he was 15, George spoke Russian, English, French and Romanian.
Besides his daughter, Mr. Sherry is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Doris Harf, and one grandchild.
After graduating from City College in 1944, Mr. Sherry worked as a reporter for The Times while also earning master’s degrees in comparative literature and political science from Columbia. He became an editor for United Nations publications in 1946, and turned his language skills into a surprisingly high-profile stint as an interpreter.
A 1962 article about Mr. Sherry in The New Yorker touched on his time translating Mr. Vishinsky in the late 1940s: “Although Sherry spoke with an almost aggressively American accent, the audience so easily identified the voice with the Russian fulminations that the secretary general himself” — Trygve Lie at the time — “started receiving letters that urged him to fire the Communist twin.”
In fact, Mr. Sherry had been the editor of an anti-Communist newspaper at City College.