A Suicide Stuns D.C.

updated 08/02/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/02/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

VINCENT FOSTER JR, SAYS A FRIEND, "was an excellent father, a good, rock-solid man. He was also smart enough to say, 'I need help.' "

Yet he apparently chose not to. On July 20, Foster, 48, a close friend of both Bill and Hillary Clinton's who served as the No. 2 attorney in the White House counsel's office, was found dead in a Virginia park, a gunshot wound in his head and a .38-caliber revolver in his hand. The married father of three left no note, and—judging by the initial reactions of Bill Clinton and other friends—no clues about why he had taken his life.

For the Clintons and others in the close-knit Arkansas-Washington group of which Foster was a charter member, his death was a body blow. Upon hearing the news, the President cut short an interview with Larry King and spent the next hour with Foster's widow, Lisa, at her Georgetown home. Vince Foster had known Clinton, as well as White House Chief of Staff Thomas "Mack" McLarty, since the three played together in Hope, Ark., more than 40 years ago. He became fast friends with Hillary when she joined Little Rock's prestigious Rose law firm, where Foster was a partner.

Though colleagues acknowledge that Foster was unhappy that the counsel's office had been implicated in some of the Administration's recent missteps, including last May's purging of the White House travel staff, they say they noticed nothing unusual in his recent behavior. At a news conference, the President firmly rejected notions that Foster had succumbed to the White House pressure cooker. Other friends agree. "If he was disgruntled with Washington, he'd just leave it behind," says Little Rock accountant Richard McDowell. "I don't see him taking his life. There's obviously something we don't know." In addition to his wife, Foster is survived by his daughter, Laura, 19, and sons Vincent III, 21, and Brugh, 17.

While the justice Department is overseeing an investigation into his death, a plainly emotional Bill Clinton urged White House staffers "to pay maybe a little more attention to our friends and our families and our coworkers and to try to remember that work can never be the only thing in life. A little humility in the face of this is very, very important."

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