Steven Saum posted an articleFirst director of the Africa Regional Office for Peace Corps — and counselor to Nelson Mandela see more
By Jonathan Pearson and Steven Boyd Saum
Richard Paul Thornell was only 24 years old when Sargent Shriver and Harris Wofford sent him to Ghana as director of the Peace Corps Africa Regional Office. “For him, it was a lifelong sense of pride,” his son Paul Thornell told the Washington Post. “The Peace Corps is the thing that has lasted, in a meaningful way, longer than other things, and the fact that my dad had a central role in launching it, that meant a lot to him.”
Yet that was only one of the groundbreaking roles Richard Paul Thornell played. A graduate of Fisk University, he became the second Black graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Along with Peace Corps, Thornell served in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Agency for International Development. A law degree from Yale University soon led him to Howard University, where he taught hundreds of future lawyers over a 30-year career. With the end of apartheid in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela, Thornell helped launch a partnership between Howard University and South Africa. This partnership included counsel to President Mandela and assistance with a new constitution.
Enduring commitment: Richard Paul Thornell and wife Carolyn Atkinson. Photos courtesy Paul Thornell
Among his many other contributions, Thornell served on the Board of Trustees at Fisk University, general counsel at Howard, special counsel to the Washington bureau of the NAACP, vice chair and counsel of the board of directors of Africare, and member of the board of directors of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington.
He and Carolyn Atkinson Thornell enjoyed nearly half a century of marriage together. He was born in 1936 and died April 28, 2020, at the age of 83 after he contracted COVID-19. The family plans to hold memorial services when people can gather to celebrate his life and legacy.
Steven Saum posted an articleThe Peace Corps community mourns the loss of Congressman John Lewis, who died today. see more
In these most challenging times for our nation, we have lost an icon in the struggle for racial justice in America.
By Jonathan Pearson
Photo of John Lewis in 1965 by Stanley Wolfson, World Telegram staff photographer / Public domain
The Peace Corps community mourns the loss of Congressman John Lewis, who died today.
As a very young man in the early 1960s, Lewis pushed the boundaries and fought against power used unjustly. He never, ever stepped away from speaking truth to power.
Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of how the “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Indeed, John Lewis tried to hold America accountable to its proclaimed ideals; he helped our nation bend toward justice. Radical, fighter, public servant, and friend — he was a wonderful supporter of the Peace Corps. And that comes as no small surprise. In 1968, Lewis married Lillian Miles, who would become his wife of nearly half a century. Lillian was a Peace Corps Volunteer, serving for two years as a volunteer in Nigeria.
What Lewis said of another man he admired is a truth he lived: “He helped hasten the day when we will live in a world finally at peace with itself.”
Just last year, Lewis spoke of those early Volunteers, of their admiration for the leadership of President John F. Kennedy and Harris Wofford, and how “the inspirational mission of the corps led hundreds and thousands of Americans to believe that they had something meaningful to share with rest of the world, while they received a deeper understanding of humanity in return.” He spoke admiringly of how love, peace, and non-violence underpinned that work — “helping our world community to fulfill the vision of a Beloved Community, and he helped hasten the day when we will live in a world finally at peace with itself.” That was a truth that Lewis lived as well.
We mourn the passing of a great man. And we honor his legacy through our commitment to carrying on the work of a man of peace and justice.
Lewis meeting with Atlanta RPCVs at his district office in 2014
Jonathan Pearson posted an articleA legendary figure in the launch of the Peace Corps dies at age 92. see more
He was a student of Gandhi's methods of bringing political change through non-violent direct action. An associate and friend of Martin Luther King Jr. during the early years of the civil rights movement. A key adviser to the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy who facilitated a key meeting between JFK and MLK which eventually led to a critical phone call that is credited with tipping the election to Kennedy.
He was a World War II era veteran. A university president. A United States Senator.
But for tens of thousands of members of the Peace Corps community, Harris Llewellyn Wofford - who died Monday - will always be remembered and revered for his iconic work as one of the architects of the Peace Corps, and his vigorous lifelong commitment to volunteerism and service above self.
"Harris Wofford blessed the world with his never-ending commitment to public service and social justice," said National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) President Glenn Blumhorst. "He truly was a global citizen who embodied Peace Corps values. All who were fortunate enough to have met Harris are mourning his passing, not only because we lost a friend, but also because our nation has lost a man of such high character and goodness".
After JFK's election, Wofford began work in the new administration as a key civil rights adviser, but was later appointed to assist Sargent Shriver in the formation of the Peace Corps. He served as the agency's special representative to Africa and director of operations in Ethiopia.
At gatherings of the Peace Corps community, Wofford would regularly remind audiences of the bold vision and role of the new agency at its inception. He recalled being on the White House lawn with President Kennedy as a new group of volunteers was leaving for their service. According to Wofford, Kennedy said:
"You know this Peace Corps is going to be really serious when we have 100,000 volunteers a year. Because in one decade, we'll have a million Americans who will have had first-hand experience in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Then at last, we'll have an intelligent foreign policy because there will be a big constituency of people who understand the world."
Wofford was a member of NPCA's Advisory Council and a regular at NPCA conferences, leadership summits, and advocacy days. His commitment to service went well beyond Peace Corps. He was Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service (which included AmeriCorps) from 1995 - 2001. He was a leader in the formation of the Building Bridges Coalition in 2006, bringing together non-governmental organizations, businesses and universities committed to expanding overseas service opportunities. Wofford also served on the boards of several volunteer organizations, including America's Promise, Youth Service America, and the Points of Light Foundation.
In our nation's capital, a city that can be consumed by status and titles, "Senator Wofford" was simply known to all as "Harris". His personal modesty belied his mark on history and many global achievements. Those achievements began in the 1940s, when he formed the Student Federalists while in high school. They continued six decades later, when Wofford assisted another presidential candidate at a critical moment: introducing Barack Obama at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center before a pivotal speech on race in America. They endured in 2016, when his opinion piece in The New York Times spoke of the man who became the second love of his life and the importance of marriage equality.
During the 50th anniversary year of Peace Corps in 2011, NPCA recognized Wofford's lifetime of service to our nation and our world by establishing the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. The award is given annually to an outstanding global leader who grew up and continues to live in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers serve and whose life was influenced by the Peace Corps.
On Saturday, March 2, 2019, we gathered to remember the remarkable life of Harris Wofford at Howard University in Washington, DC. If you were unable to join us, you can watch the service using the link below.