This week saw the passing of Harris Wofford, on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, as fate would have it. Wofford played a critical role in bringing together King and President John F. Kennedy, and was a driving force in the civil rights movement. A powerful writer, he went on to author the magisterial book Of Kennedys and Kings. Wofford likewise played a catalytic role in the creation of the Peace Corps, part of a lifelong commitment to service across the life course.
In the many decades since his role during the Kennedy administration, Harris served as President of Bryn Mawr College (one of the only men to hold that position); a United States Senator from Pennsylvania (he ran on a platform of health care reform); and head of the Corporation for National and Community Service (where he championed Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and other vehicles to engage Americans of all ages.)
It was in that period that I first came to know him, through the former president of our organization, John Gomperts. John served as a trusted aide to Harris in the Senate as well as at the Corporation for National Service. In the process, Harris became one of the great mentors in John’s life.
Through John’s introduction, Harris served as one of the inaugural Purpose Prize judges, and then as an Encore.org board member for many years. He was vigorously engaged in both, presenting Purpose Prize winners with their awards and helping to shape the direction of our organization.
I remain thankful for all that, but as I think back on those years, what strikes me most is Harris’s humility. There was nothing haughty about him. Harris treated everyone in exactly the same way, whether they were fellow board members, members of the organization’s management team, or staff handling meeting logistics. And that interaction was always distinguished by kindness, humor and a deep interest in what others thought and felt.
We will miss him dearly at Encore.org, and I will miss him personally, all the while grateful for having known such a great human being.
Published: January 24, 2019