J. Burke Knapp, 96

World Bank executive also led Arena Stage theater

J. Burke Knapp shakes hands with President Richard M. Nixon in 1969 as World Bank President Robert McNamara, center, watches. (White House Photo)

J. Burke Knapp, 96, a World Bank executive who spent more than 20 years as chief of staff to the international finance institution's president and immersed himself in Washington's cultural life as president of Arena Stage in the 1960s, died Nov. 22 at a hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. He had complications from a hip fracture.

After an early career as a ranking government economist, Mr. Knapp joined the World Bank in 1952 as director of its Latin American operations. He went on to spend many years as senior vice president of operations and chairman of the loan committee, which processed lending activities worldwide, before retiring in 1978.

Besides working at the bank, formally known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Mr. Knapp was connected to the local theater scene through his first wife, a British stage actress who appeared onscreen with Ralph Richardson and James Mason early in her career.

Mr. Knapp was board president of Arena Stage from 1959 to 1968. He played a crucial role raising money and restructuring the organization, which became one of the country's leading repertory companies, as a nonprofit business. He remained on the board until his death.

Joseph Burke Knapp was a native of Portland, Ore., and a 1933 graduate of Stanford University, where he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and captained the water polo team.

He received a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University and afterward spent four years of apprenticeship in London in international banking at Brown Brothers Harriman. He returned to the United States in 1939 and became an economist with the Federal Reserve Board in Washington.

Mr. Knapp served many positions in the federal government until 1952, including senior posts in the Federal Reserve Board and the State Department, with a year off to work with the U.S. military government in Germany after World War II.

He attended the 1944 Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire, which established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and participated in the effort to start the postwar economic aid program to Europe known as the Marshall Plan. He was an economic adviser to the first U.S. delegation to NATO and chaired a U.S.-Brazil commission on economic development.

Mr. Knapp, a longtime Chevy Chase resident, moved to California in the early 1980s and lived most recently in Portola Valley, Calif. After his World Bank retirement, he was an adviser to British merchant bank Morgan Grenfell & Co., led a project to monitor corruption in lending to developing countries and started a program at Stanford for students to intern at World Bank offices.

His first marriage, to the former Hilary Eaves, ended in divorce. His second wife, Iris Hay-Edie Knapp, died in 2008 after 32 years of marriage.

Survivors include four children from his first marriage, Louis Knapp of Rockville, Rosalind Knapp of Washington, Elise Knapp of Athens and Michael Knapp of Portland, Ore.; two granddaughters; and six great-grandchildren.

-- Adam Bernstein  The Washington Post


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