Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Colby, William Egan, 1920-1996
William E. Colby Papers
Public Policy Papers
Permanent URL:
1935-1996 (mostly 1975-1995)
18 boxes and 1 folder
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-18


William E. Colby, Princeton University Class of 1940, was a career agent in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Director of Central Intelligence from 1973-1976. However, the bulk of the collection documents his post-CIA career and contains correspondence, speeches, writings, newspaper clippings, and subject files that reflect Colby's professional and private interests.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The William E. Colby Papers reflect primarily Colby's post-CIA career as a consultant in international relations. However, there is a small amount of materials from his tenure at the CIA, including the texts of his testimony before Congress. Also of interest is material relating to the forty-year reunion of OSS officers who had served in France and Norway (including a thesis manuscript on the group's activities during the war). No classified materials are found within this collection, and materials in Colby's possession relating to Vietnam were donated to the Vietnam Collection at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

Collection Creator Biography:

Colby, William Egan, 1920-1996

Born on January 4, 1920 in St. Paul, Minnesota, William Egan Colby was the son of an Army officer, and he grew up on various U.S. Army posts as well as spending a three-year stint in Asia (Tientsin, China and Japan). In 1936 he entered Princeton University with the Class of 1940; while a student there, his extracurricular activities included the Triangle Club, Theatre Intime, and Whig-Clio. After graduating cum laude from Princeton with an A.B. in Political Science (International Affairs), Colby entered Columbia University to pursue a law degree. However, military service soon beckoned, and in August 1941 he enlisted in the Army.

Colby's service in World War II primed him for his future work in the Foreign Service and CIA. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service on behalf of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as an organizer and director of resistance forces in France from August 14, 1944 to September 26, 1944. Other awards garnered from the war include the Silver Star, St. Olaf's Medal (Norway), and the Croix de Guerre (France).

Colby married Barbara Heinzen on September 15, 1945; the couple had five children over the next fifteen years: Jonathan, Catherine, Paul, Carl, and Christine. In November 1945, Colby was discharged from the Army with the rank of major. He then returned to Columbia to complete his law degree, graduating in 1947. He was a member of the Columbia Law Review's Editorial Board.

Colby's first job out of law school was as an associate attorney for the New York City firm of Donovan, Leisure, Newton, & Irvine, headed by William J. Donovan, the OSS director during World War II. After about two years, Colby desired experience in government litigation, and accepted an associate position with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C.

In early 1951 Colby ostensibly joined the Department of State's Foreign Service, and his first tour was as a political officer in Stockholm, Sweden where he was responsible for following and reporting on Swedish political affairs. In October 1953 he was transferred to Rome, Italy with a similar job description. This tour ended in 1958, when he came back to the United States for a few months as a desk officer in Washington, D.C. In January 1959 he was assigned to Saigon, Vietnam where he was a Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador. Four years later, in early 1963, he was named the CIA's Far East Division Chief and stationed in Washington, D.C.

Colby went back to Vietnam in March 1968 to work for the Agency for International Development as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS). He was then promoted to the rank of ambassador and served as the Deputy to Commanders United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV). In this position he was the principal U.S. advisor to the Government of Vietnam on pacification and local development matters.

In June 1971 Colby was reassigned to the Department of State in Washington, D.C. Six months later, however, he was appointed Executive Director-Comptroller of the CIA and then, in March 1973, was promoted to Deputy Director for Operations. He did not remain long in the latter position, for in early May of that year, President Nixon announced Colby's nomination as the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).

After an intense summer of confirmation hearings, Colby became the tenth Director of the CIA in September 1973. However, his tenure came at a time of great controversy for the Agency, and he spent much of 1975 enmeshed in congressional hearings. Towards the end of that year, President Ford asked for Colby's resignation, which became official in January 1976.

In 1977 Colby went back to practicing law, as an attorney and partner with the Washington, D.C. firm of Colby, Miller, and Hanes. While working there, he devoted his spare time to writing his memoirs, Honorable Men, published in 1978. In 1979 Colby joined the law firm of Reid & Priest, where he stayed through 1984. During these years he branched out into international consulting, taking on the additional position of Senior Advisor at International Business-Government Counselors Inc. in 1981. It was at this corporation that he met his future second wife, Sally Shelton, a former ambassador to countries in Latin America. They married in November 1984.

Colby used his prior experience to help start a new international consulting firm called Colby, Bailey, Werner, and Associates. However, this partnership did not last long. Robert Werner was the first to leave, and Colby followed in mid-1987 to accept a position as counsel in the firm he started out in, Donovan, Leisure, Newton, & Irvine. He continued to be heavily involved in international business, especially in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Colby remained active in the professional world up until his death. On April 27, 1996 he disappeared while canoeing on the Wicomico River near his home in Maryland, and his body was found several days later. His death was ruled an accident, and authorities presumed he had suffered a stroke or heart attack before falling into the water.

A timeline of Colby's career can be found at the end of this finding aid.

August 10, 1941 - November 30, 1945 Active military service, U.S. Army, discharged as a major February 1947 - October 1949 Associate Attorney for Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine in New York City October 1949 - November 1950 Associate Attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. March 1951 - September 1953 Political officer in Stockholm, Sweden for the Department of State, responsible for following and reporting on Swedish political affairs October 1953 - September 1958 Political officer in Rome, Italy, followed and reported on Italian political affairs October 1958 - January 1959 Political officer in Washington D.C. January 1959 - February 2, 1963 Political officer and 1st Secretary in Saigon, Vietnam, as Special Assistant to the Ambassador February 3, 1963 - February 28, 1968 Far East Division Chief of CIA in Washington D.C., executive manager and administrator March 1, 1968 - February 8, 1969 Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS) for Agency for International Development in Saigon, Vietnam November 1968 - June 1971 Deputy to Commanders United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV) for CORDS (rank of ambassador) in Saigon, Vietnam June 30, 1971 Reassigned to Department of State January 10, 1972 Appointed Executive Director-Comptroller of the CIA March 3, 1973 Appointed Deputy Director for Operations of the CIA September 1973 Director of Central Intelligence 1977 - 1979 Attorney and Partner, Colby, Miller, and Hanes in Washington, D.C. 1979 - 1984 Attorney and Partner, Reid & Priest in Washington, D.C. 1981 Senior Advisor for International Business-Government Counselors Inc. in Washington D.C. 1985 - 1987 International Consultant and Partner, Colby, Bailey, Werner and Associates in Washington, D.C. August 1, 1987 - 1996 Counsel at Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine in Washington, D.C.

Collection History


The William E. Colby Papers were donated to Princeton University by Colby's wife, Sally Shelton-Colby, in 1997 (ML#1997-5).


A small amount of duplicate and unwanted material was separated from the collection during processing in 2002 and returned to the donor as per the deed of gift.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Anastasia Karel in Summer 2002. Finding aid written by Anastasia Karel in Summer 2002.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. For quotations that are fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For those few instances beyond fair use, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold the copyright and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from the Mudd Library to move forward with their use.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

William E. Colby Papers; Public Policy Papers, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-18