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Canadian envoy who hid Americans during Iran hostage crisis dies

Published 16/10/2015

Ken Taylor meeting journalists outside the Canadian embassy in Paris in 1980. (AP)
Ken Taylor meeting journalists outside the Canadian embassy in Paris in 1980. (AP)

Ken Taylor, Canada's ambassador to Iran who sheltered Americans at his residence during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, has died at the age of 81.

Mr Taylor's wife Pat said he died after a two-month battle with colon cancer.

He kept the Americans hidden at his residence and at the home of his deputy, John Sheardown, in Tehran for three months. He facilitated their escape by arranging plane tickets and persuading the Ottawa government to issue fake passports.

Born in 1934 in Calgary, Mr Taylor was heralded as a hero for helping save the Americans in a clandestine operation that had the full support of then Canadian prime minister Joe Clark's government.

In a posting on Twitter, Mr Clark called Mr Taylor a Canadian hero and a valued friend.

Some of Mr Taylor's exploits in Iran in 1979 later became the subject of the 2012 Hollywood film Argo, although he felt the film underplayed the role he and Canada played.

Mr Taylor's wife said he was diagnosed with cancer in August and that friends from Canada, the US and elsewhere visited him at New York Presbyterian Hospital where he was treated.

She said his legacy is his generosity.

"He did all sorts of things for everyone without any expectation of something coming back," she told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

"It's why that incident in Iran happened," she said. "There was no second thought about it. He just went ahead and did it. His legacy is that giving is what is important, not receiving. With all his friends that's what he did."

The six US diplomats had managed to slip away when their embassy was overrun in 1979. They spent five days on the move, then took refuge at the Canadian Embassy for the next three months. Mr Taylor immediately agreed to take them in without checking with the Canadian government.

The CIA consulted with Canadian officials on how to organise a rescue, and Canada gave permission for the diplomats to be issued fake Canadian passports.

US ambassador Bruce Heyman paid tribute to Mr Taylor: "Ambassador Taylor earned the enduring gratitude of the United States - and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal - for his valour and ingenuity in harbouring six American citizens trapped in Iran in the aftermath of the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran on November 4 1979 and, ultimately, in securing their safe return.

"Ambassador Taylor's courageous actions exemplify the enduring nature of the special relationship between the United States and Canada."

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper said he was sad to learn of the news.

"As Canada's ambassador to Iran during the Iranian Revolution, Taylor valiantly risked his own life by shielding a group of American diplomats from capture. Ken Taylor represented the very best that Canada's foreign service has to offer."

Although Mr Taylor's actions were made famous in the movie Argo, which won the 2013 Oscar for best picture, he and others said it made Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics.

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