Washington — Ashton Carter, who served as the secretary of defense under former President Barack Obama, died Monday after suffering a heart attack, his family said in a statement. He was 68 years old.
Carter served as the nation’s 25th defense secretary and held the role from early 2015 to the end of the Obama administration in January 2017. During his tenure leading the Pentagon, Carter oversaw the military’s campaign to defeat ISIS and opened combat positions to women. He most recently led the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“It is with deep and profound sadness that the family of former Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter shares that Secretary Carter passed away Monday evening in Boston after a sudden cardiac event at the age of 68,” his family said. “[He] devoted his professional life to the national security of the United States and teaching students about international affairs. He was a beloved husband, father, mentor, and friend. His sudden loss will be felt by all who knew him.”
Douglas Elmendorf, the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, called Carter’s death “so sudden and so devastating.”
“The United States and the world know Ash Carter for his lifelong efforts to serve this country, to defend the best values of this country, and to build a safer world for all people,” he wrote in a message to faculty, students and staff.
Carter’s career in government service spanned more than three decades under presidents from both parties across five administrations. Before taking the helm of the Pentagon as defense secretary, he served as deputy secretary of defense and under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. He also held numerous roles in the private sector and at academic institutions, including as a senior executive at the Markle Foundation and senior partner at Global Technology Partners, and adviser on global affairs to Goldman Sachs.
For more than a decade he was a professor of science and international affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Carter also served as a physics professor at Oxford University.
Carter is survived by his wife, Stephanie, and two children.