I was saddened by the recent death of Harris Wofford, the Senator from Pennsylvania and former aide to Martin Luther King and JFK who I became friends with when I was Director of the New York State Office for the Aging. He worked with Sargent Shriver getting the Peace Corps going and he came to meet me when he was working for the Experience Wave to promote civic engagement and voluntarism for older persons. He was a remarkable man who played a key role not only in the founding of the Peace Corps but also VISTA, Americorps and the Senior Corps which includes the RSVP program (Retired Senior and Volunteer Program) and the Foster Grandparents program.
His 92 years included time as a child when he toured India with his grandmother and saw Gandhi and studied and promoted his non-violent philosophy. He became an advisor to Martin Luther King and was credited with getting Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to to call Coretta Scott King while Martin Luther King was in jail in 1960. He wrote of his experiences with these two icons in his book, Of Kennedys and Kings.
Writing in the Washington Post after Wofford’s death, columnist Michael Gerson said, “Wofford’s theory of social change is compelling. It speaks to the individual. No life lived in service to others is empty. Service is a good way to launch young people into responsible adulthood. A good way for seniors to share undiminished wisdom and skills A good way for anyone to give purpose to their freedom and direction to their gifts.”
Harris Wofford was a good and great man who was a role model of how to impact society and public life in a positive, civil and unifying way.