Joseph Coolidge Wheeler
129 Westford Road

Age 68

Interviewed November 18, 1995

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.

Joseph WheelerYour family had a long history in Concord, and you were born at the site of Thoreau's birth, and you were named after a relative that was killed on the 19th of April, 1775.

I was named after Joseph Coolidge of Watertown who was the only person from Watertown killed on that "famous day and year." My father (Caleb) is from a long line of Wheelers who settled here in the first days of Concord. His father's farm was connected with what is now 120 Sudbury Road. That house on Sudbury Road had a big barn next to it. The farm extended down across what is now the railroad and included where the Stop and Shop and Southfield Road are now. When my father and mother married in 1916, they decided to strike out on their own, buying a farm on Virginia Road, a dairy farm of about 80 acres. They brought up five boys and sent them off to school and careers. None of them felt that dairy farming in Concord was going to make them prosperous, so they all went off to other walks of life. I was the fourth of those five children.

When I was growing up, Virginia Road didn't have very many homes, and they were all farms. On the corner of Old Bedford Road and Virginia Road was Frank Peterson. He ran the school barge for part of the time that I was in school. Then there was the cluster of the three Kenney houses. There was the old man, and then of course, Lawrence Kenney, who became famous as the last farmer in Concord to continue to drive horses. That was a market garden establishment growing lettuce and beans and so forth for the Boston market. Then came the Wheeler farm on both sides of the road, which included meadows, rocky hills, and pastures and woods, quite a variety of land types. Going up the road on the right was the pig farm run by Carl Anderson and on the left a little further along was the farm with the old Thoreau house which had been moved from it's original site where I was born. That was run by Jim Breen. Then there was a low meadow we called the peat fields before coming to the Algeo hill where we used to go sledding as children. That was a wonderful old house with a barn on the other side of the road. There was another house beyond that on the left owned by Carl Davis and finally Eddie Carlson had his dairy farm very close to what is now the airport.

My mother (Ruth) was quite a remarkable woman. She was born in Watertown and attended Vassar College, graduating in 1912. Then she went to Germany to study for a year, obviously a tremendous growth period in her life. She taught German before she married my father. Even while having her five children she was able to pick up her intellectual interests, first in collaborating with her father on a history of Watertown called Great Little Watertown. Later in her historical writings on Concord, she did a series of historical notes on Concord houses, which are at the Concord Public Library -- which she always boasted was the greatest small town library in the country. Then she wrote her Climate for Freedom, the history of Concord through 1875, which I think is known for its attempt to be accurate.

She dedicated the book to the town meeting which she considered to be an educational process for its citizens in exercising their responsibility. She was a very strong believer in citizen participation. She was one of the first women to speak in town meeting. She was a feminist as we now know them. She told her granddaughter that back in college she attended meetings in the graveyard in Poughkeepsie with people who were pushing the suffrage amendment to the Constitution.

Then she was one of the first women on town boards, the Board of Public Welfare, School Committee, Library Committee, and so forth. I think she became an educator about Concord and Concord history in her later job as news editor of the Concord Journal. I have in my papers inherited from her a whole sheaf of articles about Concord, some aspects of which show up in her book, but which go beyond the scope of the book. I think she left a legacy of appreciation of Concord, and the importance of responsibility by all citizens and a need to encourage the next generation to take on the historical responsibilities epitomized by the settlement days, the days of the Revolution and the days of the Transcendentalist movement here.

My oldest brother, who is eight years older, is Henry Adams Wheeler, named after his great-grandfather. The second brother is Frederick Robinson Wheeler, named after his grandfather on his mother's side. Then there was Caleb Kendall Wheeler who was killed in the war. After me came my younger brother Warren Wright Wheeler, named after his uncle.

In my family there was a great interest in what was going on in the world. This was probably encouraged by my mother's experience studying in Europe, bringing back an intense interest in the international politics of the time. I can recall a number of conversations at the dinner table involving the League of Nations, and it's failure to respond when Italy went into Ethiopia and that famous speech by Haile Selassie in Geneva. Then, of course, there was the development of Nazism in Germany. During that period, when the world was in a general depression, there was a feeling by many that Germany was really the answer. There was an efficiency about things in Germany. The trains ran on time, they produced Volkswagen cars for the people, and somehow or other the whole economy was doing well. So, at the same time there was a growing concern about the things that Hitler was saying and doing, there was also an admiration for the management of that society. There was a real debate that went on in what became the allied countries as to just what was the appropriate way of dealing with this new force.

I was struck, and I am struck, that my mother and father were so strongly anti-Nazi. They felt so strongly about the importance of citizen responsibility, of democratic approaches, that this became very strong in our family. I can recall my brothers coming home and talking about one of their teachers who had been to Germany who talked in positive ways about what was happening in Germany and how strong was the reaction to this from my mother. So as things developed, of course, the war started, and there was the question, and continued to be the question, as to what the U.S. role should be. Of course, we really were a very isolationist country. We had almost no military. Our feeling was that we were safe behind the two oceans and that there really wasn't a need for the United States to get involved in the internal squabbles abroad. But Roosevelt was working to build support for assistance to Britain, and as we know, succeeded but only just barely succeeded in getting enough support so that we could supply Britain as it was fending off what could have been a successful invasion by the Germans in 1939. So the war started and of course, we became participants in it after Pearl Harbor, and the country responded in a magnificent way. I can remember speeches by Roosevelt promising that we would produce 50,000 planes, and people would say that's ridiculous, we can't possibly do that, and then in the end we actually exceeded the targets. It was a wonderful period and an awful period. It was awful to read of the many losses on the battlefields, and yet there is something exhilarating about the way the country and community pulled together in order to play their roles. I think that being part of that obviously affected all of us in the class of 1945 at Concord High School as we prepared for our careers.

My oldest brother Henry was a pacifist. This pacifism was a great disappointment to my mother, who felt strongly in the other direction. My second brother had bad eyesight but succeeded in getting into the American Field Service Ambulance Corps and went to North Africa. The third brother, Caleb, joined the Army Air Corps and was killed on mission as his plane was bombing Hungary in 1944. Just after I had gone to college we got word that he was missing in action, and then later that he had been killed. My younger brother missed World War II but was part of the Korean War. I joined the Army Air Corps in 1945 when the war was almost over. I actually only served a little over seven months and never got out of the United States. I was in that age group that just missed the fighting.

Just before the war, Caleb had married a wonderful girl, and they had only a year of married life before he went off to Italy -- and a lot of that was at Army camps. She stayed with us or in the community after the war and remarried and recently died. Last year we had a chance to reminisce. I think going back to those days and thinking of this young man and his ambitions and his approach to life leaves one with a very warm feeling about Caleb. He really loved Concord, and he liked the Transcendentalist movement and wanted very much to be the best high school teacher of English in the world, and felt that he was headed in that direction. I suppose he would have liked to have taught in Concord.

In high school I was part of the Student Federalists. I mentioned that my oldest brother was a pacifist or a Quaker. He and his wife established a "scholarship," for a total of $20 I think, to send me to a summer conference run by the Quakers in the Poconos. This was after my freshman year in high school, and when I think about it, I find it amazing that I got so interested so early in this kind of question. At that conference I remember I bunked with Bayard Rustin who was later a well-known civil rights leader. And I met a boy from Scarsdale named Harris Wofford. Harris later had a distinguished career, which most recently has been as Senator from Pennsylvania. He had a special role to play in the elections of both President Kennedy and President Clinton. He had persuaded Sargeant Shriver to persuade his brother-in-law Jack to call Mrs. Martin Luther King when Martin Luther King had been put in jail. This was a dramatic moment which made an important difference in Illinois which was the swing state for Kennedy. In the Clinton campaign, Harris Wofford had won his senatorial campaign on the health issue. The health issue became very important in the Clinton campaign. Wofford's election gave an injection of higher morale to the Democratic party. Harris in later life was also president of Bryn Mawr College and was very active in civil rights matters, but when I had met him in 1944 he had just gotten interested in Student Federalists.

The story goes that he was taking a bath one night and his mother had taught him that he couldn't turn the radio off when his hands were wet, so he was forced, while taking his bath, to listen to Clare Booth Luce, who was giving a speech about Union Now with Britain. In those days, one idea was that democracies should get together and form governmental unions and be able to stand up against forces of evil which existed in the world. So Harris got enough interested in this that he wrote off and found out about Union Now and started something called Student Federalists. He persuaded me at this conference to start a little group in Concord. So in my sophomore year I was gathering together a few of my friends on Sunday afternoons, meeting in a storefront community center that had been established on the Mill Dam. We talked about world government. The idea of world government is about a couple centuries too early because it takes a long time before people are ready for those kinds of things. I think there is no question that those who participated in that movement were given impetus for thinking about global issues and ways in which people could work together.

I carried these interests along and eventually we found ourselves organizing something that became the Concord Conference on World Government which was held at the First Parish Church, using the Wright Tavern as our eating place. I think there were about 80 students from 20 to 30 states who came together at that time. This was in the spring of 1945. It was about the same time as the United Nations was started. I think we felt a disappointment that the UN charter really was going to be a relatively weak instrument. We had wished that more democratic forms and more representation of people had been established in its framework. Actually I had been working with the federalists in the organization of a number of conferences around the country. I remember one very important drive across the country in a Studebaker through Chicago and on to California. We organized a number of college campus or school campus conferences in which kids got together and talked about these issues.

Townsend Scudder in Concord: An American Town was trying to talk about American history through a particular town, and of course, Concord was a good one to use because so many things happened here. But he also wanted to get across that there are things percolating in American towns all the time which become part of the flow of history. It just happened that my mother had been an important source of historical information for him and the conversations about my brother Caleb came up and conversations about me and the federalists came up, and so he used us as examples of community ferment in the last chapter of his book.

I went to Bowdoin College one week before the end of my junior year at high school attending the summer session in 1944 so that I got about three semesters in before I went off to the Army. Then I had a little time after the Army and before I went back to Bowdoin, during which I worked a little bit with the federalists. I got my degree from high school when I was sitting in a training camp in Texas in June 1945 with Jimmy Dee, who was also in my class and also in the Army at that time. Then I graduated from college a year earlier than I would have if there hadn't been a war. Everybody was accelerated in those days.

This conference that we held here came up with a statement that we called the Concord Charter. Old patterns will bring new wars and new depressions. It is time for a change. We must make world citizenship a political fact. Existing governments have demonstrated they are incapable of preserving peace and protecting human rights in an interdependent world. The atom bomb blasts forever the illusion that power politics can give us peace.

Only a new world sovereignty on the principles of federalism can destroy the irresponsibility of nationalism, while preserving national identity. The United Nations Organization is not a federal government. It has no authority over individuals; it can only make recommendations to member nations; and it cannot prevent secession of any nation. It will not be adequate unless it is capable of making, interpreting, and enforcing world law. Therefore, a federal world government must be created, either by calling a convention under Article 109 of the United Nations Charter or by other international action. We recognize frankly that the United States and the Soviet Union are the two chief obstacles to such action. Either is powerful enough to take the lead.

To awaken America, Student Federalists will stimulate thinking on the urgent need; educate our generation in the principles of federalism; find, train, and organize the necessary leaders; and support all steps which will lead to a federal world government.

It was very idealistic and quite impractical.

Russia was our ally. In addition to our bundles for Britain, we used to do bundles for Russia. It was only gradually over the coming year or two that we realized that the Soviet Union was something else again. It had expansionist ambitions. The communist form of government was even more harsh then we had realized earlier. We came to realize that democratic forms at the international level would require the adoption of democratic forms at the national level.

At the same time, I think we may have underestimated the United Nations. The fact is that the United Nations has been a place where we have been able to achieve consensus on all kinds of "quiet" issues, the kind of issues that don't hit the headlines. The United Nations enables international postal systems to work, or international civil aviation systems to work, and is the place where we negotiate treaties on climate change and biological diversity. It is a place where we work out standards that are needed in industry and exchange information that is needed in all forms of life including agriculture. It's a place where we have these world conferences, and step by step we get people talking about the need to improve the role of women, the importance of the population issue, or the importance of education or health, where we gather together on inoculation programs. It is the place where we coordinated the elimination of smallpox. I think that we underestimated the potential of the consensus process that is enabled by the United Nations, but at the same time, people are very critical of the United Nations even though it's total budget is something less than what is spent on trash collection in New York City. It is known as a very inefficient organization and it often is, and so the great debate is continually going on about its importance and the importance of our role in it. I don't think there is any doubt that it has been a very useful instrument for the United States and other member countries as a place of coming together to do legislation by consensus.

My mother wrote a front page article in the Concord Journal about whether to place the site of the United Nations in Concord as proposed by Edith Nourse Rogers, Congresswoman from Massachusetts. The proposal for Concord as the site stirred quite a controversy in the town. My mother wrote that Concord should not be afraid of change and should embrace it. I think my mother sometimes surprised people. As an historian, she saw history as a living thing not a thing of the past. In other words she saw history as a guide and inspiration for continuing participation in the world, not for something that should be preserved and isolated. You know, Concord is not a place simply to visit for its historical places but Concord should be a place where the people are actively involved in the issues that are important in the world.

My entire career follows into that broader world outlook. I had a very good time in Concord and I participated in all those things, the church, the young people's society, the Boy Scouts, and in high school, I had a chance to run track and became the Class B 880 champion of Massachusetts. I participated in plays and played the violin and it was sort of an idyllic youth. I also worked very hard on the farm. I had a big garden of about an acre, and I kept chickens. At one time I had pigs and I was a very active member of the 4-H Club which was run by the Extension Service. That Service had been very important in my father's life as he took up conservation measures and experimented with new seeds and fertilizers. That agricultural experience turned out to be very important in my later life.

When I went on to college, I studied government. One of the more interesting things that I did at college was to found The Bowdoin Plan, which was a plan whereby the fraternities at Bowdoin each agreed to give room and board to one foreign student and the college agreed to give free tuition. So we were able to give in effect a complete college education to about 12 foreign students at a time on that campus. That plan got picked up by 30 to 40 other colleges around the country, and was part of the process of reconciliation after the war. I was interested, in going back over my papers, in the importance we gave to that kind of thing.

After college I had the chance to go to Geneva for a year. I was nominated by the Concord Rotary Club and I had a recommendation from Professor Carl Friedrich (who lived in Concord) at Harvard. One of the things that he liked about me was that I had grown some baby chicks for him for his Vermont farm. I think he got a kick out of our interest in Student Federalists. Anyway I got a Rotary Foundation scholarship and another scholarship from the Boston Globe which had sort of a memorial fellowship program for a year or two right after the war. One of the things I did in Geneva was to study a little bit about population, and I learned the S curve of population growth. There was just the first glimmerings of interest in an issue which has become of absolutely fundamental importance in the world today.

I met my first wife, who died in a car accident in 1969, in Geneva in 1948 and we married there. When we came back here we both went to Harvard Graduate School. I went to the Graduate School of Public Administration. I got a couple of Master's degrees there over the coming two years, and then went to work. We went to Washington where I got a job with the Technical Cooperation Administration which was the program articulated by Harry Truman in his inaugural address and became known as the Point 4 Program. He had the idea that you could take these wonderful American farmers and get them over to developing countries and they would show people how to do farming in the right way and everything would be onward and upward forever. I think we had a very simplistic view of what it was going to take to transform the world from its then awful poverty to its relative prosperity of today.

The ‘50s was a time of great optimism in the United States. We treated our veterans very generously and gave them low interest rate loans and educational opportunities, and it was a wonderful injection into our society so that instead of going back to the depression of the ‘30s, we went into a period of great growth and optimism.

I notice that looking back at my college papers, I talked a lot about the Marshall Plan. It was, I believe Harry Truman's most important initiative of that period, along with his standing up to the Russians in various ways. It was such a clear success. It is amazing to think that in those days between 2% and 3% of our gross national product was going into the Marshall Plan assistance to Europe and to Japan in the reconstruction process. That compares with .15% of GNP going to international assistance today. It was an enormous effort. It encouraged European integration which was important from a political point of view as well as economic, and it was just one of the great periods of American collaboration with the rest of the world.

I worked through the administrations of Truman through Reagan. I started as a management intern and went from the regular civil service to the foreign service and stayed in it until 1982. I had some wonderful jobs. After my initial junior level jobs, I became Assistant India Desk Officer. I was involved in what may be the most important contribution that the United States made to Indian development, which was the development of its agricultural education and research institutions which became important in backstopping what became known as the "Green Revolution." India has produced more than enough food to keep up with its population growth.

After three years of that job, I was Greece Desk Officer for a year and then Turkey Desk Officer. Then Harris Wofford got involved with Sargeant Shriver in establishing the Peace Corps and asked if I would be interested in joining there. I did, and I was involved in the development of the Peace Corps in its first two years, working particularly on South Asian countries and spent actually five months as acting Peace Corps Representative in India. It was a great period because we were sorting out Peace Corps policy. There were issues such as how well off a Peace Corps volunteer should be in relation to his or her peers in the country, and all the policies about whether it was all right for Peace Corps volunteers to wear beards, or whether it was all right for Peace Corps volunteers to marry. I was in India at the time that Sargeant Shriver came and, with Nehru, went up into the Punjab where we established the first Peace Corps project in India. I was also involved in backstopping training programs for East and West Pakistan and supervising Peace Corps representatives all the way from Turkey to India and Sri Lanka.

Very exciting, very heady, but after two years I was invited to come back to the Agency for International Development and head the Office of Greece, Turkey, Iran, Cyprus and Central Treaty Organization Affairs. I think it was about the longest title of anybody in the agency. I was responsible for backstopping the aid programs in those countries.

Then I was invited to be the U.S. Aid Mission Director to Jordan in 1965. I was about the youngest aid director that the agency had. I felt very pleased with that. We went off to Amman with our five children. I recall arriving with 23 pieces of hand baggage and being greeted at the airport by the ambassador and his staff. Oh, my, it was a very heady time. It was an interesting time -- it was a time of growing tension with Israel, but a time in which we were doing some very interesting things in development particularly in agriculture in the Jordan valley which is below sea level and which is a natural vegetable growing area for export markets. We also saw Jordan as a country with very limited natural resources but with tourism a real possibility. I can recall taking our Secretary of the Interior, Morris Udall on a trip to Qumran by helicopter. He came to visit because we had a major project there with the National Park Service working with Jordan to preserve important archeological sites such as, Petra, Jarash and Qumran. We wanted to get the benefits of tourism while avoiding damage to the sites. The team developed site museums and laid out orderly routes through the sites and so forth. We worked very hard in Jordan on education, and Jordan became one of the best educated countries in the Middle East. The people of Jordan became their own best asset in development because they invested so much in education.

But it all came crashing down in the six-day war in 1967. We evacuated our families a few days before the war started. I had a house on what is known as Jebel Amman, one of the seven hills of Amman. It was kiddiecorner opposite the Queen Mother's house. The army decided to put machine guns on my roof. There were the shells cascading down over the sides of our house as Israeli planes came whooping down to bomb the airport. But of course, the war only lasted six days. I found myself dealing with the aftermath which was a couple hundred thousand refugees from the West Bank who found their way across the Jordan River and had no place to live. We gathered together through aid all the "Ted Williams" tents that Sears Roebuck had in its stores all across the country, and shipped them over the Jordan for these refugees to use in the initial period before permanent facilities could be developed. After the war, there was an interesting period because the West Bank under Israeli control was still using the Jordanian dinar. The Jordanian dinar was 100% backed by gold, and it was one of the hardest currencies in the world. Jordan and Israel had to establish an exchange rate between the dinar and the shekel. I found myself playing an intermediary role as these two countries with the help of the IMF developed unanticipated economic relationships. I also got involved in discussions of the international water rights question which in the Middle East is critical. The Israelis have made very good use of most of the water in the Jordan valley system.

One of the projects in Jordan which was of special interest involved potash which can be extracted from the salts of the Dead Sea. We were proposing to give support to a Jordanian project at the south end of the Dead Sea where there was already a potash plant on the Israeli side. In order to do the feasibility study, engineers had to go back to earlier soundings in the Dead Sea. One of the points of reference was a book published in the late 1840s by an American expedition which had gone to explore the Dead Sea and the River Jordan and its origins. My great-uncle, Lt. Dale, was the number two on that expedition and had done the drawings for the book that was published. Toward the end of the expedition, he caught a fever and died and was buried in Beruit. It was a great coincidence that Joe Wheeler, in the same family as Lt. Dale, came as the A.I.D. mission director and become involved on this project which used data from that expedition.

In 1967 I came back to Washington to be a Deputy Assistant Administrator for A.I.D.'s Bureau for the Near East and South Asia. I spent two years in that job. Then I was invited to become A.I.D.'s mission director in Pakistan. Although it wasn't intended when I went there, I ended up staying 8 years. From our home in McLean, Virginia we decided that we would take a plane from California. We planned to drive to California where my brother would be waiting to take the car back East. Unfortunately, we had an accident on the way and I lost my wife and my youngest boy. So I arrived in Pakistan under difficult circumstances, but full of beans as far as the potential of the program was concerned. In those days Bangladesh and Pakistan were all one. We were planning to give major concentration to two issues - one was population, countrywide, and the other one was growing rice in East Pakistan. It was my intention to give a lot more attention to the development in East Pakistan which was considered to be the poorer part of the country. Well, one thing that happened was that East Pakistan had this fantastic cyclone in 1970. East Pakistan is a delta and it's very low. In the middle of the country, you have Dacca, the capital, which is only 16 feet above sea level, so when this cyclone came in, a huge wave came into the southern part of the country and in a matter of minutes wiped out perhaps a half a million people. It was just a terrible catastrophe, but it gave an opportunity for the United States to show how it could respond to a crisis. Our military is organized to kick in and work on these kinds of things. I learned as much as I could about what had happened and put the order in to Washington, and they came in with plane loads of helicopters and food drops so that we could fly over these southern areas of East Pakistan and feed isolated people who couldn't be reached by any other means of transportation until things could be sorted out.

Well, it happened that our response came during an election period. This was probably the most honest election in the history of Pakistan. The East Pakistanis felt that they had been discriminated against. This was emphasized by the contrast between the efficient American response to cyclone assistance and the weak response of the Pakistan government which was located in West Pakistan. The president at the time decided that it would be all right to go ahead with a planned trip to China, and it just took weeks for them to get mobilized to get their assistance over to East Pakistan. When the election took place later in the year, all but two East Pakistan seats in Parliament were won by the East Pakistan leader, Mujiba Rahman. That meant that he had won a majority of the seats countrywide and would be the prime minister of Pakistan. This was completely intolerable to the leadership in West Pakistan including Mr. Bhutto, who had won a majority in West Pakistan. One thing led to another, with civil war and war with India then finally the separation of Pakistan into two parts.

At that time we had been working very hard on both the rice issue and on the population issue and had made, we thought, some small progress on the population issue, but we were only at the beginning. On the rice issue, we had made quite a bit of progress. After the war I found myself running a program limited to West Pakistan. A separate aid mission was set up in East Pakistan. So, I turned my sights to what needed to be done in West Pakistan and worked very hard on the population issue, on the Green Revolution as far as wheat and rice were concerned, and on what we called "basic human needs." There was a need to give more attention to rural development, including the education of girls and the education of all children, rural electrification, rural roads, and various kinds of water saving measures, and so forth. It was a very active time.

During my eight years, we saw a doubling of wheat production, great increases in rice production and it was one of the great success stories of the development period after World War II, so I felt very pleased to have been a part of that.

I should tell you that in Pakistan I found Verona, my wife. We married just 25 years ago this year. She had two children and I had four and we had our six children at our wedding in Pakistan.

After 1977 I was invited by John Gilligan to become Assistant Administrator for the Near East. The Near East included particularly Egypt, Israel and Jordan. So for a couple of years I had overall responsibility for these huge aid programs, Egypt and Israel each received over a billion dollars a year. In Egypt we were doing very interesting things in agricultural development and in strengthening local government and education.

In 1980 I was asked to become Deputy Administrator of A.I.D. under Doug Bennett, the A.I.D. administrator, remaining in that role until 1982. I served more than a year into the Reagan administration. One of the interesting things at that time was on inauguration day, January 20, 1981, when President Reagan was sworn in. This was also the day that the hostage crisis was resolved. I was in Aswan representing the United States at an Egyptian development conference and in the morning I greeted the conference on behalf of President Carter and at 7:00 at night which was exactly the time that President Reagan had his hand on the Bible being sworn in, I greeted the conference on behalf of President Reagan. So I have the distinction, I think, of the being the first person in the world to speak on behalf of the new president. It was an momentous day because the Egyptians were as excited as we in the resolution of the hostage crisis. Every few minutes we would be given the latest bulletin until the hostages were finally on their way. In 1982, the White House focused on the fact that I was a Jimmy Carter appointee in a political position, so it came time for me to leave A.I.D. I resigned and worked about six months as a consultant to A.I.D. on coordination of assistance to smaller African countries. Coordination is much easier on big subjects, but on lesser countries it is hard to organize and we devised a little system to get the agencies of the U.S. Government to work together in countries such as Kenya and Senegal. I was sort of a catalyst in a coordinating process which, after I left, became known as the "Wheeler group."

In 1983 I was asked if I would be the U.S. nominee for the Deputy Executive Director position of the United Nations Environment Program which has its international headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. I did that for two years. A very interesting assignment which I won't go into in any detail. Then in 1985 I was asked if I would become the Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee at the OECD. The OECD is not well known in the United States, but it is the organization that grew out of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation which coordinated the Marshall Plan. The OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In the ‘60s they had established the Development Assistance Committee with a full-time chairman. It is the only committee of the OECD which has a full-time chairman. The Chairman has historically been provided to the organization by the United States. For five years I occupied this bully pulpit on development issues. We issued five books during that time in the form of the annual report of the Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee. About every two weeks I chaired a meeting of the OECD donor countries. I made speeches all over the world. It was considered the most prestigious position in the development business, and it was a great pleasure for me to have that position for five years. It gave me a chance to talk about many of the issues which have been the subject of international conferences during the 1990s.

Then in 1991 I was asked if I would join the team preparing for the Rio United Nations Conference on Environment and Development -- the "Earth Summit." The Secretariat was headed by Maurice Strong who had been the Secretary-General of the first Environment Conference in Stockholm. The Secretariat was set up in Geneva. So I moved over there. We developed what became known as Agenda 21, which is the major product of the 1992 Rio conference. Agenda 21 had 40 chapters which had to be organized and made consistent one with another and negotiated with 175 countries in a series of preparatory committee meetings and finally at Rio itself. So I played an important supportive role to this gifted leader, Maurice Strong. Looking back I think we found a good balance in Agenda 21 between environmental issues on the one hand and development issues on the other. We now have Habitat II coming up in June 1996 on urbanization -- there is a chapter on human settlements in Agenda 21. We just had the conference in Beijing on women -- there is a chapter on women in Agenda 21. We had a conference on social development in Copenhagen and there is a chapter in Agenda 21 on education and another one on health. There was the conference on population in Cairo, and there is a very important chapter in Agenda 21 on population issues.

It has been fun for me to be a part of the international dialogue as we have sought consensus. It takes you back to where Joe Wheeler got into this kind of work. Of course, he got into it in those dinner table conversations back on Thoreau Farm in Concord; the little seminar in the Poconos; the participation in the Student Federalists; the activity on the Bowdoin Plan in college and the study in Geneva, with one thing leading to another. It has been a wonderful life.

I can remember when I went off to Nairobi I made a speech in Washington in which I was able to go back to Thoreau and Walden and the Transcendentalists and the importance of finding a way to both have a better life and to preserve our environment, and that reference back to Thoreau found its way fairly often into talks that I make. I also built on my farm experience. I did not study agriculture in college, but one studies agriculture in life if one is born and brought up on a dairy farm with various kinds of 4-H Club experiences. These early experiences were very helpful to me. They gave me a greater sense of confidence in dealing with some enormously complex and important fundamental issues.

Three years ago I came home to Concord, and since then, I have been "consulting." I've been asked by the Rockefeller Foundation to work with them in establishing a developing country partnership on population and development, a sequel to the Cairo conference, in which successful family planning program experience can be exchanged among countries. I've been lately working with the United Nations Center for Human Settlements in Nairobi, which is known as Habitat, and their preparations for Habitat II, an international conference which will concentrate quite a bit on urbanization, to take place in Istanbul in June 1996. I'm helping them in their negotiation of a "plan of action." I was called by the United Nations Development Program to go to South Africa which is just establishing its aid relationships in its new life after apartheid. They found that they didn't like the way the donors treated them and the donors didn't like the way they responded, and there was a need for a certain mediation effort to improve understanding between the two groups. I hope that I made a small contribution there.

Occasionally I am asked to do other things. I was asked to go to Somalia in connection with attempted development efforts there which, of course, were aborted when Americans were killed and the UN withdrew. It's good to keep a hand in these kinds of issues in my retirement years. I'm on the Board of the International Fertilizer Development Center in Alabama. I'm on the Board of Population Action International in Washington and Pathfinder International of Watertown, Massachusetts, which is a major participant in the development of family planning efforts overseas.

Text mounted 9 Jan. 2008; images mounted 12 October 2013 -- rcwh.