After two years at the budget office, Mr. Shultz became Treasury secretary in June 1972. The previous year, Nixon unilaterally made the dollar inconvertible to gold. That forced the rest of the world to move from a system of fixed rates of exchange for national currencies to a flexible system. Exchange rates ceased to be the way in which governments made monetary policy. Mr. Shultz traveled the world trying to make sure the dollar remained almighty.
He quit the Nixon administration in May 1974, three months before the president resigned in disgrace, the last of Nixon’s original cabinet members to depart. Before his death, he was the oldest surviving member of Nixon’s inner circle and, along with former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, among the last.
After 25 years in academia and government, Mr. Shultz joined the Bechtel Corporation (now Bechtel Group), one of the world’s biggest engineering and construction companies, serving as its president from 1974 to 1982. He was paid nearly $600,000 a year (about $2 million in today’s money) to run its global and domestic operations, which included the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the Washington Metro subway, King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and much of the infrastructure of the Saudi government.
Throughout his years in power in Washington, Mr. Shultz tried to keep one secret out of print: that he had a tiger tattoo on his posterior, a legacy of his undergraduate days at Princeton University. When queried about the tattoo, Phyllis Oakley, a State Department spokeswoman at the time, replied, “I am not in a position to comment.”
Princeton, Then the Pacific
George Pratt Shultz was born in Manhattan on Dec. 13, 1920, the only child of the former Margaret Lennox Pratt and Birl E. Shultz, an official with the New York Stock Exchange. He grew up in Englewood, N.J., and entered Princeton in the fall of 1938.
In his senior year in 1941, he was majoring in economics when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. He joined the Marines after graduation and saw combat in the Pacific. He joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after earning his doctorate in industrial relations there in 1949. His field was labor economics.
In 1955, he took a year’s leave to serve as a senior staff member of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisers, under its chairman, Arthur F. Burns, who later led the Federal Reserve Board.