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Happy Birthday, Harris Wofford!

Today, we remember the late Harris Wofford and celebrate what would have been his 93rd birthday. Members of the Peace Corps community whose lives were touched by Harris share some of their memories:


“Harris was special and imparted to us the value of national service and encouraged us to try to make the world a more caring and tolerant one.”

– Tondalaya Gillespie


“His inspiration during the early years of the Peace Corps led me to a life of service. He even remembered my name 10 years later. A truly wonderful man.”

– Peter Arquin MD 


“Harris was the essence of the Peace Corps and he was outstanding in many other aspects of his public life. He was truly the consummate citizen and I feel fortunate to have know him.”

– Craig D. Leffler


“It was an honor to interview Harris Wofford for A Towering Task [the Peace Corps Documentary]. Besides his incredible insights into the Peace Corps, sharing in the wisdom of a man who has done so much for this world was transformative. Being a frugal documentarian, I had bought Harris’ book “Of Kennedys and Kings” from a used bookseller and brought it to our interview. There was a dedication written in it “For Jerry, Who’s making sense of our new decade. Warmly, Harris” A bit embarrassed, I still asked Harris whether he would rededicate the book. He didn’t even bat an eyelash and said: “Of course!” He drew a circle around the old dedication, attached an arrow and wrote: “Now for Alana, Good luck on YOUR new frontier and your film! Harris Feb, 2014″ What a classy guy! (And I wonder who Jerry is!) You will be dearly missed, Harris!”

– Alana DeJoseph 


“My friend Gilles Corcos knew Harris and his wife from the World Federalists. In ’61, when I was a neonatal fellow at Columbia Presbyterian, at Harris’s suggestion, Sarge Shriver phoned to ask me if I wanted to be the first MD to volunteer for the Peace Corps. When I found out that I would lead a medical team to Togo, I said “Yes.” So instead of becoming a neonatologist; I’ve spent a rich life working in Primary Maternal & Child Health Care, in least developed countries and here in NYC…all thanks to Harris, whom I later knew in Ethiopia, and here in NYC. I learned much from him including that civil disobedience against unjust laws is ethical and that love/sexuality is not binary but fluid. Also that Notre Dame breeds high ideals as well as NFL players! My best wishes go out to the family of this uniquely principled man of action!”

– Nicholas Cunningham MD Dr P.H.


“We are grateful to Harris for all he did for the Peace Corps and for bringing us together. We attended the 30th anniversary of Peace Corps in Washington, D.C.. There was a map of the world. Harris asked the RPCVs to stand on their country. That is how we met. We were married three years later.”

– John Hand and Janet Ghattas


“Harris Wofford was a blessing to all of us. He celebrated life and encouraged us to do the same with our own dreams, aspirations and talents.”

– Pat Baldi Waak


“In the spring of 1985, I chaired a group of DC-based RPCVs that began discussing our own celebration of the Peace Corps’ 25th Anniversary. Peace Corps Director Loret Ruppe was a little skeptical when she found out (it was the Reagan Administration) but was reassured by the fact that two of us were Republican Capitol Hill staffers (albeit for progressive Republicans, when they still existed). I can’t recall how we roped in Harris, but he was enthusiastic about helping, and he got us our first serious money from Jerome Wiesner, who had been President Kennedy’s science adviser and was a board member of the MacArthur Foundation. It was an enormous pleasure to work with him (and Shriver, Josephson and other Peace Corps founders) on the celebration, which took place in September 1986 in a big tent on the Mall for more than 5000 RPCVs. For Christmas 1985, he generously gave me a copy of his book Of Kennedys and Kings with the inscription “To Doug Siglin, who is carrying on the story.” But, in a wonderful, typical Wofford move, he was holding the book upside down and backwards when he inscribed what he thought was the cover page. The book and the memory of working with him are still among my most treasured possessions.”

– Doug Siglin

“He was perhaps the nicest man I ever met, and was truly Mr. Peace Corps. More people like him would be a worldly blessing.”

– Gerald Finkkelstein


“He inspired me throughout my life to make a difference. I am so grateful that I knew him when I was young and we stayed in touch throughout the years.”

– Dr. Judith Guskin


“Harris inspired legions of people by example with how he lived his life. He gave his support to our initiative to inspire more people to volunteer overseas…Harris was so generous with his time and influence. He was a wonderful man. I feel so very fortunate to have known him. You may count me with the many that called him a mentor. His impact on me will continue to inspire and guide me throughout my career and life. My deepest sympathies to Harris’ family.”

– Steven Rosenthal


“Although I never met Mr Wofford, I am in awe of his amazing contributions to volunteerism and the Peace Corps spirit.”

– Laura McHale


“Senator Wofford gave us a fine example of a life well lived. He will be missed but he will always be remembered.”

– Helene Dudley


There was much to admire about Harris. I loved hearing him tell of working with Sargent Shriver to create the Peace Corps. How he would “Shriverize” the ideas put forth in those formative days and years of the fledgling government agency. Make them bigger, bolder, faster. But Harris never dwelled on past glory. He was always looking forward. Always asking how something worked or how you were going to put your latest idea into action that would benefit others. He was genuine, never expecting of you more than he expected of himself.

– Priscilla Goldfarb



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