Photo: Annette Hornischer

Thomas L. Farmer (1923-2015) was a founding chairman of the American Academy in Berlin.

Farmer was born in Berlin, on July 26, 1923, to German-American parents. When Hitler came to power, the Farmer family left Berlin for New York City, on September 26, 1933. Farmer’s father went on to teach at Cornell Medical School, and his mother was a practicing pediatrician in New York. Farmer entered Harvard College in 1940, where he was a vocal advocate for American intervention in Europe. He graduated in 1943 and, after a stint in the US infantry, was trained at the Pentagon in assessing German military units, as part of the intelligence section of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

After two years studying law at Oxford University, Farmer received his degree from Harvard Law School and returned to Berlin on a Rockefeller Foundation grant. He approached the US High Commissioner in Bonn about contributing to a study about the legal status of Germany’s pre-war commercial treaties. Farmer’s conclusion—that the treaties were still valid—was incorporated into the Allied-German treaty that led ultimately to the creation of the Federal Republic.

Subsequent to his work on John F. Kennedy’s successful 1960 campaign, Farmer advised the new administration on State and Defense department appointments. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Farmer general counsel to the Agency for International Development, where he helped to create the Asia Development Bank. Farmer’s career continued, working as a lawyer at a small Washington firm while staying involved in politics: during the Carter Administration he was on staff as chairman of the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board.

Farmer’s involvement in German life, law, trade, intelligence, and economics, stretching back to the 1950s, was known in Washington’s diplomatic circles. Among his many awards is the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.