He came to Princeton from West Tallahatchie High School in Webb, Miss., where he was active in debating, dramatics, and the school newspaper.
At Princeton Desaix was a Keyceptor, member of Whig-Clio and the Pre-Law Society, and in NROTC. He majored in history and was a member of Quadrangle Club. He roomed with Jack Perkins and George Daly.
After graduation he served in the Navy, did graduate work at Berkeley, and entered the Foreign Service in 1962. There Desaix specialized in East Asian affairs, and was especially known for his instrumental role in restoring formal diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam after opening the first U.S. Embassy in Hanoi after the Vietnam War.
Retiring from the Foreign Service in 1997, he served as a special envoy on Cambodia and taught at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. From 2007 through 2009, he conducted summer seminars for Princeton undergraduates in Hanoi.
Late in his career Desaix took up painting and quickly became known for his artistic talent; his works have been exhibited at New York galleries in Soho, Tribeca, and Chelsea.
Desaix also established the Laurence Desaix Anderson and James Buford Anderson Professor of East Asian Political Economies chair on Contemporary East Asian Political Economies in Princeton’s East Asian studies department in coordination with the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
Desaix is survived by siblings Elizabeth Aldridge, Buford Anderson ’62, and Florence DeCell w’72; 13 nieces and nephews; and many more great-nieces and -nephews. The class extends its deepest sympathy to them all.