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Obituary: John Shaffer ’40

John Shaffer, 92, garden designer and ex-CIA employee, dies

By Emma Brown

Washington Post Staff Writer 
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

John G. Shaffer, 92, a former CIA station chief in Karachi, Pakistan, who retired in 1973 to pursue a longtime interest in garden design, died April 3, 2010, at Buckingham's Choice, a retirement community in Adamstown, Md. He had congestive heart failure.

As a young CIA employee working in Washington, Mr. Shaffer took pleasure in designing and planting three acres surrounding his home in Fairfax County. He left that garden to serve in Bonn, then the capital of West Germany, and in Cairo before going to Karachi in the early 1960s.

He and his family returned to Washington in 1965 and settled in Cleveland Park. They kept a weekend home in Rappahannock, where Mr. Shaffer enjoyed planting 30 mostly wooded acres.

In retirement, he studied landscape architecture at the University of Maryland and took summer courses at Oxford University in England and Harvard University's school of design.

He designed home gardens in the Chevy Chase-Bethesda-Rockville area for the landscape company Gustin Gardens before going into business as a freelancer. About 1980, he and his wife moved to Potomac, where he created a one-acre English-style garden that won an award from Garden Design magazine and was featured in an episode on House and Garden TV.

The garden featured rarities such as a dozen tree peonies, varying in shade from lavender to a red so deep it was almost black. Mr. Shaffer also welcomed less-exotic volunteer plants whose seeds drifted from neighbors' yards, including the winter-blooming hellebore and the wood peony, which is "almost a weed," he told The Washington Post in 1996, "but I do like it."

Mr. Shaffer was involved with a number of Washington area horticultural organizations. He served as a member of the garden committee at Tudor Place in Georgetown and was a former director of the Friends of the National Arboretum. He founded the auction of rare plants at the National Arboretum and was the founding editor of the Azalean, a publication of the Azalea Society of America.

In 2000, the Garden Club of America recognized Mr. Shaffer for his contributions.

John Griffith Shaffer was born in Altoona, Pa., and grew up riding horses and hunting foxes. After entering Pennsylvania State University at age 16, he dropped out after a semester and went to New York to teach horseback riding at a school founded by White Russian cavalry officers.

He graduated in the late 1930s from Antioch College in Ohio. Under the school's work-study program, he had stints as a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and as a teacher at Rahway State Prison in New Jersey before joining the Army in 1941.

During World War II, he served in the China-India-Burma theater. While in New Delhi, he met Frances Weld, a State Department employee who became his wife. His military decorations included the Bronze Star Medal.

After the war, Mr. Shaffer joined the clandestine agency that became the CIA.

His daughter, Sally Shaffer, died in infancy in 1948.

Survivors include his wife of 64 years, of Adamstown; two children, Susan W. Shaffer of the District and John G. Shaffer III of Silver Spring; a sister; a brother; and four grandchildren.