Phil’s Notebook: Memories of Harris Wofford

We're mourning the death of one of our longtime supporters and member of our Advisory Council, Senator Harris Wofford, who passed away on January 21st.  

Harris was a relative through my wife, Lynn's, family and a household name who came to be a presence at two important stages of my life.

In my last year of law school I had been accepted into a Peace Corps lawyers program in Ethiopia as well as a legal fellowship program in Malawi. In 1965, who knew anyone who had been to either, much less to both? Harris had worked in both places.

In what I found to be his way of giving advice, he turned the matter over to me and asked what I was looking for. What is a not yet graduated lawyer with no worldly experience looking for when he is investigating programs in Africa? In fact, I have no idea what I said but, but he guided me down a path of examining what little I knew about the places and the programs. 

In retrospect, I don't know what he could have told me that would have given me a better way to formulate a decision.  (I decided on Ethiopia based primarily on being associated with a Kennedy program.)

The second significant interchange was shortly after I had started Camp Sizanani and Global Camps Africa. Harris was planning around-the-world trip with his latest grandchild about to turn 12. He asked if he could make his first stop be Camp Sizanani.  He and his grandson got into Johannesburg that afternoon, hired a driver and made arrangements to meet me at a McDonald's on a major road, from which I would lead them to camp. 

Aside from a slapstick mix-up when there were two McDonald's across the beltway from each other and we kept circling to reach the other, the visit was magical. It was during staff training and Harris spoke to our mainly black South African about his involvement with Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid movements, and the importance of open racial relationships. We had two Peace Corps volunteers, on their break from teaching, on our staff.

The evening ended and Harris, grandson, and driver went back to Johannesburg. The rest of us went to bed and met at breakfast. The PCVs, who had never heard of Harris before the night before, had been impressed enough to Google him that night. Their main report back was a frustrated: "What is there left to do? He has done it all!"

Harris was kind enough to join Global Camps Africa’s Advisory Council, and shared his insights with many of us - including our South African vochellis visiting the US - over the years. His example is one that continues to inspires us all.