Eduard Shevardnadze was little known in diplomatic circles when he was appointed profileto the high-profile foreign minister's job in 1985.
But at home in his native Georgia, he had a reputation as a hard-work-ing crimebuster who eliminated rampant corruption from the republic's Communist Party.President Mikhail Gorbachev named Shevardnadze foreign minister in July 1985, four months after coming to power himself.
The genial Shevardnadze succeeded Andrei Gromyko or "Mr. Nyet," the dour-faced, tough negotiator who held the post for 28 years.
The 62-year-old Shevardnadze spent most of his career in the Georgian Communist Party, rising through the Komsomol Communist Youth League and serving from 1965-72 as Georgia's interior minister. He became the republic's party leader in 1972.
Like Gorbachev, Shevardnadze is a pragmatist rather than an old-style, hard-line Communist. Gorbachev recently credited him with helping develop the concept of perestroika while walking along a beach on the Crimean Peninsula.
"We were walking and talking," Gorbachev said of their March 11, 1985, stroll. "We compared notes. He said that everything was rotten through."
"It was not easy for us to reach those conclusions," Gorbachev told the Communist Party newspaper Pravda. "We had seen a lot, especially considering that we had seen the war, so we had seen a lot and knew a lot."
Besides being respected at home, Shevardnadze has a good working relationship - and frequently a warm personal relationship - with his counterparts in the West.
Although it was Gorbachev who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, the white-haired Shevardnadze did much of the leg work, traveling the globe, negotiating deep cuts in conventional and nuclear arms and paving the way for a series of superpower summits.
"Shevardnadze made a real era in our international policies," Sergei Stankevich, Moscow's deputy mayor, said in tribute Thursday.
Georgians are notorious in the Soviet Union for corruption, and Shevardnadze, who has a reputation for personal modesty, played a key role in one of the republic's most infamous cases of nepotism and bribery.
The case involved Otari Lazishvili, who used a personal friendship with a former Soviet general prosecutor to protect numerous illegal economic dealings.
As interior minister, Shevardnadze gradually and successfully moved against Lazishvili in 1972. He was then made party boss and continued the crackdown.
Author Gail Sheehy in her Gorbachev biography "The Man Who Changed the World" said Shevardnadze became famous for "exposing the underbelly of black marketeering with all the flair of a Chicago crimebuster."
In 1978, Shevardnadze was appointed a non-voting member of the national Communist Party's Politburo, which, until recent reforms, wielded immense power over the governing of the country as well as the party. In 1985 he was made a full member.