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In Memoriam – December 2021

As we mourn the loss of members of the Peace Corps community, we celebrate the lives they led with a commitment to service.

By Molly O’Brien and Caitlin Nemeth

Photo: Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. (1944–2021)

Our tributes include a prominent human rights defender in Jamaica and a Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. A school administrator and former Peace Corps Country Director. A novelist and poet and a lawyer. A lifelong civil servant and a public health officer. A pioneering businesswoman and a Korean War veteran.  We honor the wide range of contributions made by members of the Peace Corps community who recently passed away.

 

Nancy M. Anderson (1948–2021), an outstanding human rights activist, dedicated mentor, was born in the U.S. but after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica, she stayed on and eventually became a Jamaican citizen. She had graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in education in 1969 before joining Peace Corps and teaching with the Ministry of Education. Following her service, Anderson pursued her law degree, earning an LL.B. from the University of London in 1979, then returned to Jamaica to earn her Legal Education Certification at the Norman Manley Law School in Kingston in 1981. Thus began her forty-year career practicing law, where she made her mark as an extremely compassionate and determined human rights advocate. ​​Anderson participated in a number of major human rights cases in various local and regional jurisdictions, including the Barbadian government, Belize’s Appeal Court — following her 2015 admittance to practicing law there — Trinidad and Tobago, the Eastern Caribbean, and of course her extensive work in Jamaica. She worked in many capacities: as the director of the Kingston Legal Aid Clinic from 1990 until her death, where she worked diligently to make legal services more widely accessible to low-income community members; as the executive director of the Legal Aid Council, part of Jamaica’s Ministry of Justice, starting in 2002; as legal officer for Jamaica’s oldest human rights NGO, Jamaica Council for Human Rights, from 2003 until her passing; as a director of Citizens’ Action for Free and Fair Election from 2000, a prominent election monitoring organization; and most recently, as a participant on the Chief Justice’s committee to release mentally ill inmates from prison. Anderson was also extremely passionate about mentoring law students, teaching advocacy and ethics courses at Norman Manley Law School from 2009 until her death. Also, she was heavily involved with the school’s moot court team. In addition to these responsibilities, Anderson joined the Justice Training Institute from 2010–16, and she served as judge for the 2017 Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition in Geneva and the Jessup Competition of the International Law Students Association in April 2018 and July 2021. For dedicating her life to service and others, she received several awards, including becoming a member of Jamaica’s Order of Distinction in 2016 and an award from the Organization of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations in 2021. Anderson will be remembered for her dedication to providing services for the island’s most marginalized and teaching and guiding future generations of lawyers.

 

Rene F. Cardenas, Ed.D. (1933–2021) sold peanuts for his father in San Antonio Market Square for his first job and was most proud of serving as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army Airborne and Second Infantry Division as part of the 9th (Manchu) Regiment in Korea. After returning stateside in 1953, he received a Bronze Star for Valor. Following his Army service, he freelanced as a private investigator in California, spent time picking peaches in Colorado, worked as an orderly at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and worked as a cartographic aide for the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1962, he was part of training group 2 in Peace Corps Colombia, where he was fondly remembered for his energizing leadership by his fellow Volunteers. After Peace Corps, he joined Save the Children and worked in international development and research in British Guinea and Mexico. When he returned stateside, he worked for VISTA and the Migrant Opportunity Program in Arizona. Cardenas graduated from University of Texas in the late 1960s, and named a Ford Foundation Fellow before earning his doctorate of education in community development at Teacher’s College of Columbia University. Cardenas worked for the newly minted Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, specifically for the fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education. This fund was dedicated to strengthening access to higher education for people previously unable to obtain college degrees. Cardenas was instrumental in collaborating with civil rights and labor leaders César Chávez and Dolores Huetra on United Farm Workers programs. He helped fund the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in Alabama and established the Association for Community-Based Education. Following his role at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, he became senior vice president at Development Associates, where he was instrumental in forming a landmark policy study on bilingual education and led the field work of the Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Study. Cardenas served as the senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza, diligently working to reframe Hispanics in the public consciousness as achievers rather than victims. After retiring, Cardenas returned to writing and published hundreds of short stories, poems, and a multi-volume science fiction novel. He will be remembered for his service to his country, his community members, and his dedication to ensuring access to higher education.

 

Marianne K. Smythe (1942–2021) graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1959 and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Bucknell University in 1963. She married classmate Robert (Bob) Smythe, and together the two of them worked in New York City for a year before deciding to join the Peace Corps. They served as teachers from 1964–66 in Nigeria. When they returned to the U.S., Smythe attempted to go to medical school, but was told that she couldn’t be serious about it because of her Peace Corps service. Instead, Smythe pursued a graduate degree in British History and nearly completed a Ph.D., but she decided to apply to the University of North Carolina Law School. When a rule meant to limit non-resident women from enrolling almost deterred Smythe’s educational pursuits again, she responded by filing a lawsuit with the ACLU and was admitted. Smythe earned her J.D. in 1974 and graduated fifth in her class, Order of the Coif, and Articles Editor of the Carolina Law Review, all while raising her two young daughters. Afterwards, Smythe began an incredible career in Washington, D.C. She worked in securities and banking law as an associate at a law firm, then at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). She also served as Associate General Counsel for Pesticides and Toxic Substances at the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1981, Smythe returned to Chapel Hill and became a tenured professor at the UNC Law School and assistant provost of the university for several years. However, she couldn’t stay away from the Washington area for long and soon returned to the SEC, first as an executive assistant to the chairman then as the director of the SEC’s division of investment management. Smythe’s storied career ended with 15 years as a partner at the law firm of Wilmer Hale. Once retired, she continued to assist several clients as an expert witness in securities and banking law. During this time, Smythe assisted the Government of Bangladesh with sovereign fund management until eventually settling into her favorite role of grandma to her five grandchildren. She loved spending time with her family, especially traveling with her husband. Over the years, they made it to all seven continents and nearly fifty countries.

 

Norrell Noble (1931–2021) born in Grenada, Mississippi, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi in 1954 before being drafted into the U.S. army. He spent most of his two-year service on the Hawaiian island of Oahu as his unit’s division historical clerk. After the army, Noble spent a year studying Latin American history in New Mexico followed by two years studying divinity in Kentucky, at first, then in Scotland. He worked several jobs around the world before moving to Pforzheim, Germany, to teach English at the Berlitz School. It was there that he met Françoise, a fellow teacher and love of his life. In 1960, they married in Switzerland and embarked on a lifelong journey together that involved teaching and traveling around the world. Together, they worked in Tanzania as teachers for two years before returning to the United States, allowing Noble the opportunity to earn his master’s degree in education at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University. Noble taught and served as head of school at Rockland Country Day School in Congers, New York, as well as head of the school at the International School of Brussels. In 1971, Nobel and his wife joined the Peace Corps and lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo with their two young boys. Noble served as a Volunteer for two years before joining the Peace Corps staff to lead education, health, and wildlife programs in Congo and Cameroon. After he and his family returned stateside in 1979, Noble held various positions as a school administrator for more than twenty years in New York City, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt. He also served as the Director of Peace Corps Guinea. After a storied career in education, Noble retired in the early 2010s and spent much of his retirement enjoying community events with his wife, spending time with his family, and indulging in a passion for professional tennis. Noble’s impact on his many students across the world will not soon be forgotten.

 

James “Jim” M. Gilbreth (1934–2021) grew up in a large family in Joplin, Missouri, and attended St. Peter’s School when he felt called to serve God. Shortly afterwards, he studied for priesthood at St. John’s Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, before leaving to join the U.S. Army. As part of the Green Berets — a special forces division — he trained as a paratrooper and radio operator. After returning from the army, Gilbreth earned a bachelor’s degree in human relations from Rockhurst College and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Utah. In 1961, Gilbreth felt compelled to serve his country yet again and joined the newly formed Peace Corps. He served as part of the first deployed groups of Volunteers and taught English in the Philippines for two years. After Peace Corps, Gilbreth continued to work in the public sector, intent on helping others. He worked as the first field representative for the Missouri Commission on Human Rights in the 1960s and 70s. His role was key in helping to remedy victims of discrimination in employment and housing. Gilbreth met his wife, Patty, while working occasional weekends as a bookkeeper at the Maddox Nursing Home, and they married in 1966 before moving to Kansas City. While raising their family, Gilbreth worked for the War on Poverty program under the Office of Economic Opportunity. His career later took him to work for the Social Security Administration, where he eventually retired. But, Gilbreth couldn’t stay retired for long. Reminiscent of his time in Peace Corps, he found a new passion as “Mr. G.” and began teaching high school religion. Gilbreth and his wife were active members in their community through their church choir and community theater. In his final years, Gilbreth enjoyed winemaking and started a beer and winemaking shop. His vineyard was named Bahala Na, which translates from Tagalog to “God’s Will Be Done.”

 

Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. (1944–2021) — born in Gainesville, Florida — was raised in an Air Force family and moved all over the United States growing up. He met his wife in 1966 while at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and together they joined the Peace Corps, serving as Volunteers in Colombia from 1967–68. When they moved back to the United States, Hobbs attended law school at Berkeley Law before moving to Colorado where he served as a law clerk in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. After falling in love with the region, Hobbs enjoyed spending his free time exploring Colorado and the Southwest. As a prolific writer, he shared his experiences of the region’s landscapes, people, and history and published several books. In 1996, Hobbs began his service as a Justice on the Colorado Supreme Court. One of his greatest honors was welcoming the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes back to their homeland in December 2014 when Colorado apologized for the Sand Creek Massacre. Hobbs helped to found Water Education Colorado and tirelessly advocated for water issues in Colorado. After retiring in 2015 from the Supreme Court, he continued to serve as Vice President and Publications Chair at Water Education Colorado, sharing his love of nature with all.

 

Detlef Johann E. Frank (1942–2021) was born in Germany and moved with his family to the United States when he was six years old. He discovered his love for soccer as a teen while playing for his high school team, then for the Yellow Springs Soccer Club in the 1970s. Frank graduated from Saint Bonaventure University in 1964 before serving as a physics teacher in Peace Corps Philippines. When he returned, Frank followed his passion for education by earning a master’s degree from Michigan State University and ABD from the University of Chicago. Afterwards, he taught physics at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. From 1979–95, he relocated to Dayton, Ohio, and worked as a software engineer before returning to teaching for a number of years. He was a dedicated educator who enjoyed helping his students find their passions. At the same time, he shared his love for soccer — playing well into his 70s — with others by serving as a youth soccer referee, teaching soccer refereeing classes, and mentoring hundreds of southwest Ohio referees. In 2020, the Ohio High School Athletic Association recognized Frank for 40 years of refereeing service.

 

Douglas W. Palmer III (1941–2021) was a dedicated public health servant whose career spanned several decades and took him to many countries. He grew up in West Seattle and earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Western Washington University. Inspired by President Kennedy’s speech while in college, Palmer joined the Peace Corps in 1965 and served three years in the Philippines as a biology and botany teacher. During his service, Palmer met and married his wife. Upon returning stateside, Palmer earned his master’s degree in public health from the University of Hawaii before starting his 28-year career as a public health officer with USAID. With his family, he traveled to Vietnam, Cameroon, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Philippines over the course of his career. Palmer didn’t slow down after retiring. He engaged in many contract public health positions with non-governmental organizations overseas. He also worked with Project HOPE in Central Asia and Management Sciences for Health in Afghanistan for 14 years. Palmer even worked on crab-processing boats in Alaska. When he settled into true retirement, Palmer greatly enjoyed sharing his many travel stories, playing pickleball, and fishing at his favorite spot.

 

Norman I. Cooley (1940–2021) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and attended East/Southeast High School in Wichita, Kansas. He was active duty personnel in the U.S. Navy from 1958–61, stationed aboard the U.S.S. Sproston, where he attained the rank of E-3, Petty Officer 3rd class. After his naval service, Cooley graduated from Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, and then received his law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1968. Cooley worked as an assistant county attorney before joining the private firm McDonald, Tinker, Skaer, Quinn & Herrington. By 1980, he worked independently as a self-employed attorney until his retirement. In 2000, he joined Peace Corps Romania and focused on helping small businesses. In his spare time, Cooley loved learning about Native American art and history, studying American Civil War battles, playing golf, documenting family genealogies, and listening to radio broadcasts from all over the world.

 

Claudette J. (Renaud) Sortino (1942–2021) was a pioneering businesswoman, tireless public servant, and passionate traveler. Sortino was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and attended Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, where she graduated in 1964. Following graduation, she joined Peace Corps India, teaching in the Orissa Provence. After she returned stateside, Sortino began her 30-year long career in women’s health by joining Johnson & Johnson as the first female sales rep for their Ortho Pharmaceutical division. Sortino’s public service included serving on the township counsel of Middletown, Pennsylvania, as well as Middletown’s local school board, the South Ryegate Select Board in Vermont, and the League of Women Voters as a long-time member. She also ran unsuccessfully for the Caledonia-1 state representative position. Sortino traveled all over, to China, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Wales.

 

PEACE CORPS STAFF

Alfred W. Ford (D.C. staff), 11/26/21

Jerry A. Fullmer (Attorney Advisor), 4/26/21

Douglas “Doug” F. Goffus (Audio Visual Specialist and Photo Archivist from 1997–2002 in D.C.), 12/9/21

Cecil G. Sands (Staff), 11/17/21

Robert L. Waldron II, M.D. (Peace Corps physician in Panama 1963–64 and Chile 1964–65), 11/13/21

 

MULTIPLE COUNTRIES

Norrell Noble (Democratic Republic of Congo, Volunteer 1971–73; Democratic Republic of Congo & Cameroon, Staff; Guinea, Country Director), 10/23/21

 

BELIZE

Karen L. (Vaughn) Wenzel (1987–89), 11/13/21

 

BRAZIL

David A. Dodge (1962–64), 5/21/21

Larry Lynch (Unspecified), 10/29/21

Karen L. (Engebretsen) May (1966–69), 10/25/21

 

CAMEROON

Laura A. Wallsten-Cook (1983–85), 10/4/21

 

COLOMBIA

Rene F. Cardenas, Ed.D. (1962–64), 11/13/21

Barbara A. (McMullin) Foley (1975–79), 11/2/21

Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr. (1967–68), 11/30/21

 

COSTA RICA

Francisco “Frank” M. Hernandez (1966–68), 10/21/21

Leon C. Johnson (1964–66), 11/27/21

 

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Edward A. Ross (1991–92), 11/30/21

 

EASTERN CARIBBEAN

Paul J. Naydihor (1982–83), 12/2/21

 

EL SALVADOR

Leonard “Len” D. Sweeten (1962–63), 11/7/21

 

ETHIOPIA

Casper V. Carlton, Jr. (1962–64), 9/17/21

Delbert L. Gilkerson (1968–70), 11/7/21

Angela Maria D. Grisanti (1973–76), 11/15/21

 

INDIA

John X. Gray (1966–68), 11/26/21

Samuel M. Holtzman (1966–68), 7/22/21

Claudette J. (Renaud) Sortino (1965–68), 11/16/21

 

IRAN

Peter T. Flowers (1971), 11/30/21

 

JAMAICA

Nancy M. Anderson (1973–74), 11/29/21

Angela K. (West) Brown (Unspecified), 11/27/21

 

MALAYSIA

Anne M. (Kudalis) Wollerman Carson (1967–69), 11/14/21

Glenn T. Smith (1965–67), 11/29/21

 

MARSHALL ISLANDS

Shirlee A. Bitney (1992–94), 11/25/21

 

NIGERIA

William “Bill” A. Conner (1967–69), 10/16/21

Marianne K. Smythe (1964–66), 11/9/21

 

PERU

James R. Ives (1970–72), 11/17/21

 

PHILIPPINES

Mary Margaret (Hondros) Fay (1962), 10/4/21

Martin J. Flaherty (1964—67), 11/30/21

Detlef Johann E. Frank (1964–66), 11/28/21

James “Jim” M. Gilbreth (1961–63), 11/8/21

Philip S. Heard (1962–64), 11/17/21

Floyd E. Heimbuch (1990), 11/29/21

Douglas W. Palmer, III (1965–68), 10/29/21

 

POLAND

Alicia K. Geesman-Pritchard (1993–95), 11/10/21

Felix J. Lapinski (1990–92), 11/19/21

 

ROMANIA

Norman I. Cooley (2000–02), 11/20/21

 

SIERRA LEONE

Rev. Phillip N. Grigsby (1969–71), 11/23/21

Robert “Bob” J. Gross (1962–64), 11/6/21

Robert “Bob” E. Schilson (1987–89), 11/7/21

 

SOUTH AFRICA

Andrew S. Ross (2005–07), 11/1/21

 

SOUTH KOREA

Robert N. Cohen (1969–71), 12/1/21

 

TANZANIA

G. “Chris” C. Baker, J.D. (1966–68), 11/3/21

 

THAILAND

Evan S. Jacoby (1970–72), 10/26/21

Larry E. Jones (1964–66), 11/22/21

David L. King (1963–65), 11/27/21

 

TURKEY

Wayne L. Harman (1965–67), 11/16/21

 

COUNTRY OF SERVICE NOT SPECIFIED

Karen A. (Clark) Jeffries (Unspecified), 11/9/21

 

If you have information or photos you would like to share for our monthly In Memoriam post, please reach out to us at [email protected].