On June 17th, 2005, Americans for UNESCO and the Board on International Scientific Organizations of The National Academies held a celebration of the life of John E. Fobes. Special guests for the event were Federico Mayor Zaragoza (Former Director-General of UNESCO), Harriet M. Fulbright and Harlan Cleveland. The website of Americans for UNESCO was not working when Dr. Fobes died, but we are now taking this opportunity to commemorate his life and his contributions.
Director-General of UNESCO,
on the occasion of the Memorial Service in honor of Jack Fobes
17 June 2005
I am pleased to offer words of praise and remembrance in honor of Jack Fobes, former Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, whose service to this institution left a lasting legacy.
Jack Fobes arrived at UNESCO in 1964, fresh from his New Delhi posting as Deputy Director of the USAID Mission to India. Jack Fobes’ service to the United Nations systems predates the UN itself, since he was detailed in 1942 to the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations in London. There, as Secretary to the Committee on Administration and Budgetary Matters, he worked to lay out the first UN budget and financial regulations, Member State contributions scale and staff policy. These were to find life as text of the UN Charter and other documents. In the 1950s, he advised the US Delegations to the UN General Assembly and was elected for 5 years by the General Assembly to serve on its Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.
UNESCO’s files still preserve the letters from Director-General René Maheu offering Jack Fobes his first position of Assistant Director-General for Administration. Jack Fobes went on to serve with great distinction at UNESCO until 1977, improving budgeting and administrative procedures including personnel policy and working methods. Along the way, he and his wife Hazel made lifelong friends. In December 1970, René Maheu, having duly consulted UNESCO’s Executive Board, showed the professional and personal regard in which he held his close adviser in a letter offering him the position of Deputy Director-General, which referred to the “very great esteem” he had for his competence and capacities, as well as for the “integrity and loyalty” of his character, “founded upon the experience of a long and close collaboration”. On another occasion, René Maheu was to say of Jack Fobes: “I greatly appreciate, in particular, the qualities of heart that you unite with an informed intelligence in your treatment of human affairs.”
Jack Fobes remained a loyal advocate of UNESCO in the productive decades that followed his retirement, during which, among other activities, he founded Americans for the Universality of UNESCO and worked with the UN Association of the United States of America and other civil society groups. With Jack Fobes’ death, a true friend of UNESCO departed. I am glad that, before he died, he had the satisfaction of seeing his great country’s re-entry into the Organization, after a period of separation which pained him.
JOHN E. (JACK) FOBES
Jack Fobes was one of those rare individuals who touched people on many different levels. He did so through his commitment, compassion, administrative abilities, and dedication to UNESCO, the United Nations, and making the world a better place for all.
I first met Jack in 1975. It was at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. I was there to receive a briefing prior to undertaking an advisory mission to New Zealand for the organization. While I was in Paris, I had arranged to meet with Guy Métraux, editor of UNESCO’s Cultures, to discuss a paper of mine – Towards a New World Order: The Age of Culture – he had accepted for publication. As it turned out, Guy was a close friend of Jack’s – a friend who did as much to advance UNESCO’s scholarly interests as Jack did to advance its administrative and developmental interests.
You can imagine how thrilled I was when Guy informed me that the Deputy Director General of UNESCO – Jack Fobes – had asked to meet with me when I was in Paris. He went on to say that Jack had ordered a special printing of my paper for distribution to the delegates at the Round Table on Cultural and Intellectual Cooperation and the New International Economic Order planned for 1976. In retrospect, this confirmation by Jack of my writing on the subject of culture was a defining feature in my life. It convinced me to spend the rest of my life working to broaden and deepen understanding of culture and cultures in general and the role they are capable of playing in the world of the future in particular.
Following our meeting in Paris, Jack and I stayed in touch on a number of issues. However, I did not see Jack again until 1980, when we were asked to attend a series of meetings in Durango and Mexico City on The Future of the Past: Historical Identity and Permanence and Change organized by Jack’s friend, Magda Cordell McHale. Since the meetings extended over many days, I had the opportunity to get to know Jack and his charming wife Hazel on a more personal basis, as well as to become more acquainted with Jack’s formidable talents and accomplishments. I will always remember how impressed I was with Jack’s humanity, humility, and considerable administrative capabilities. As chair of many of the session, he demonstrated a remarkable capacity to guide and steer the discussion. He knew exactly how long and how hard to push the delegates, as well as when it was time to take a rest and “fluff the pillow” as he liked to call it.
Jack and I stayed in touch after our get together in Durango and Mexico City on a number of matters of mutual interest and concern. He was particularly helpful to me when I started the World Culture Project to commemorate the World Decade for Cultural Development in 1989, acting as an advisor to the Project. It was at this time that I became aware of the fact that Jack was not only well known in the cultural community, but also in the futures and political communities. In addition to his numerous other skills and abilities – skills and abilities that made it possible for him to accomplish an enormous amount without ruffling many if any feathers – Jack possessed an incredible capacity for far-sightedness and vision. He understood very well the need for new thinking and new ideas with respect to international affairs, multinational relations, the world of the future, and especially the role all the diverse cultures and peoples of the world and civil society could play in this.
When the United States pulled out of UNESCO, Jack was deeply hurt. While most people would throw up their hands and lament the fact that little or nothing could be done about it, Jack immediately started a powerful movement to push for the return of the United States to UNESCO. He did so by creating Americans for the Universality of UNESCO, now Americans for UNESCO. It is a cause that Jack worked on tirelessly for two decades. While it is largely conjecture on my part, I do not believe the United States would be a member of UNESCO today if it hadn’t been for Jack’s persistent efforts in this regard.
When I think about Jack’s contributions to people and countries in all parts of the world – from the local and regional to the national and international – I am reminded of Martin Luther King’s comment that “I seek nothing more than to leave behind me a life wholly devoted to a cause.” This was Jack. He was wholly dedicated to the cause of improving the quality of life for all members of the human family and humanity as a whole. In the process, he became “a world citizen” and “mighty oak” as one colleague called him who touched, moved and assisted people from many diverse walks of life and parts of the world. His countless friends, colleagues and admirers throughout the world will be eternally grateful to him for this.
D. Paul Schafer
The World Culture Project
The World Culture Project
Read Remembering Jack Fobes with comments by Kofi Annan, Federico Mayor, Richard Nobbe, and a biographical sketch.
Read Jack Fobes: Lien-Link Memorial Articles by Richard Arndt and Gérard Bolla.