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CHEYENNE - Ambassador David R. Nicholas, a Laramie attorney and former Wyoming state legislator, died suddenly in Ukraine over the weekend.

The chairman of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, expressed shock and sadness Monday over Nicholas's death.

Nicholas, 64, was the OSCE project coordinator in Ukraine and had been overseeing the elections in that nation.

He had served as representative of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to the OSCE in Vienna from September 2002 until March 2003, when he was appointed OSCE project coordinator in Ukraine.

"Ambassador Nicholas had won widespread respect for his effective leadership of OSCE activities in Ukraine for the last two years," Rupel said in a release. "He was tireless in his efforts to assist Ukraine along the path of democratic reform. He was also a wise counselor to me on my visits to the country."

On behalf of all 55 OSCE participating states, Rupel offered his condolences to Nicholas's family.

Nicholas's brother, Jack Nicholas of Lander, a retired district judge, said Monday the diplomat appeared to be in excellent physical condition. He said the cause of death wasn't known.

An autopsy will be conducted, he added, but not in Ukraine.

"We don't know of any circumstance that would lead you to suspect there was foul play," Jack Nicholas emphasized. But he added that it seemed the better part of discretion not to have the autopsy in Ukraine.

He mentioned suspicious deaths that have occurred in Ukraine in the last two or three years as well as the dioxin poisoning of newly elected Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko during last fall's election campaign.

David Nicholas was a civilian employee in the Department of Defense with a rank the equivalent of a four-star general, his brother said.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal, meanwhile, praised Nicholas as "a truly fine legislator with a remarkable attention to detail and a real sense of the future of the state, as seen in his support of creating a wildlife trust when it was first proposed 25 years ago."

"He continued to do his home state proud with an influential career in international diplomacy. Dave was someone I tremendously enjoyed working with over the years," the governor said in a prepared statement. "Our condolences go out to his family and friends, of which there were many. The state of Wyoming has never had a better friend than Dave Nicholas."

Secretary of State Joe Meyer said Nicholas "was a native son who distinguished himself."

"It's a tremendous loss," he added. "He was one of the smartest people I ever met in my life."

Meyer said the family notified him of Nicholas's death early Sunday evening.

Nicholas was involved in a number of international development programs.

Beginning in 1993, he developed and implemented a systemic reform program in Saratov, Russia. He was also involved in a rule of law program in China's Heilongjiang Province.

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His brother, Jack, said he could speak German, Russian and Chinese.

From mid-1989 until March 1993, he was defense adviser to the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels, where he received the Distinguished Public Service Award.

He had taught international business at the University of Wyoming College of Business, and law enforcement and constitutional government at the College of Arts and Sciences. He had also lectured at the College of Law.

Nicholas served in the Wyoming Senate from 1979 to 1987. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor in 1986.

He also had been a justice of the peace (1972 to 1974), a city attorney (1988 to 1989) and a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army (1984 to 1989).

From 1967 to 1971, Nicholas served as captain in the U.S. Army JAGC as prosecutor and defense counsel and for two years as an independent military judge.

He is survived by his wife, Karen, and two adult children.

Capital bureau reporter Joan Barron can be reached at (307) 632-1244 or at joan.barron@casperstartribune.net.

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