The Honorable Samuel R. Gammon III, former Ambassador of the United States to Mauritius, has endowed a gift of $200,000 to the Department of History at Texas A&M University. The Gammon Family Endowment in History, funded through a bequest to the Texas A&M Foundation, was created to aid in the department’s pursuit of excellence in teaching and research. The gift is made in honor of Ambassador Gammon’s father, the late Samuel R. Gammon II and late brother William ’41.
History has permeated almost all aspects of Gammon’s life and left an indelible mark. Gammon, who received a B.A. in history from Texas A&M in 1946, grew up as a “faculty brat,” a child of a faculty member. His family moved to faculty housing on campus when Gammon was one year old when his father became the chair of the Department of History at Texas A&M, a position he held for 30 years (1925-1955).
“The campus brats, mostly faculty kids, used to get into the steam tunnels and run all over the campus underground and explore everything from outside our faculty house clear on up to the power plant,” Gammon recalled.
In 1940, Gammon enrolled as a student at the then all-male college and at 19 years old was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served with an engineer combat group in Europe with the 7th Army from 1944 to 1945 during World War II. He returned to campus after the war, completing his final semester at Texas A&M in 1946.
Gammon looks back fondly at his time at Texas A&M, specifically at Yell Practice and the night Reveille I spent the night asleep in his dorm room.
“She wandered around and was welcomed everywhere, and she just strolled in one evening and curled up on the rug and spent the night,” he said.
After graduation he went to Princeton University to pursue his doctorate.
“While I was there, I got recalled into the army for Korea in 1950,” Gammon said. “I did not get shipped over to Korea because we lost my older brother in the Philippines in late 1945 (in World War II), and there’s a rule to not send sole surviving sons into combat.”
Gammon taught history at Emory University from 1952 to 1953, but when he was offered a tenure-track position, he joined the Foreign Service instead. His distinguished diplomatic career included service as a vice consul in Italy, consul general in Ethiopia, counselor for political affairs in Rome, deputy assistant director of the United States Information Agency for Western Europe (restructured by legislation in 1999 and folded into the Department of State), deputy executive secretary for the State Department, and minister-counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
One of Gammon’s most noteworthy commissions was serving as a key American diplomat in negotiations in Paris in 1976 and 1977 in order to normalize relations between the United States and Vietnam. The second round of negotiations took place within Gammon’s home. Gammon recalls purchasing a green-beige table cloth for his dining room because, as a protocol, all negotiations took place on a table cloth of that color.
In 1978, Gammon was appointed as the American Ambassador to Mauritius, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa, and remained in this role until 1980.
“When my late wife and I moved here to Charlottesville, we counted up and it was our 27th move in 50 years of marriage,” Gammon remarked. “You get fairly expert at packing.”
He spent the next 12 years stateside (1981-1994), as executive director of the American Historical Association in Washington, D.C., the largest historical society in the United States. His passion for history reflects the organization’s mission to provide leadership for the profession.
“I’m a great fan of history. Alas, in too many of the secondary schools they don’t teach history anymore. They teach a subject called ‘social studies,’ which is a mélange of history and political science and a little dab of economics and sociology,” Gammon said. “I’d like to see history pushed a little more vigorously because, as one of the great philosophers said, ‘Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.’”
He hopes his contribution to the Department of History will help others recognize the necessity of an education rooted in history.