LAFF Society


In Memoriam, Fall 2019


Verne Atwater, the Foundation’s first director of administration and co-author of a well-received memoir described by one reviewer as a “detailed and lively, firsthand view of the Foundation’s early years”, died October 30 at his home in Amherst, N.H., at the age of 99.
Dr. Atwater joined the Foundation in 1956 and served as administrative director under three presidents, H. Rowan Gaither, Jr., Henry Heald and McGeorge Bundy.  
After being named the Foundation’s representative for Argentina and Chile and then director of the Latin America and Caribbean program, he was made a vice president, with administrative responsibility for construction of the new headquarters building in New York City.
When the building was completed in 1968 he resumed a career begun in education and finance, first as president of the Westinghouse Learning Corporation and then as chairman of the Central Savings Bank in New York City. In 1981, he became a professor of economics and finance at Pace University, retiring in 2001.
In the book that he wrote with Evelyn C. Walsh, A Memoir of the Ford Foundation: The Early Years, he recounted many of the efforts that “helped develop and promote the foundation’s international education and arts programs, its critical support for the agriculturally focused development effort known as the Green Revolution, and any  number of efforts to promote democracy and ‘advance human welfare’ around the globe”.
A reviewer described the book as “less a comprehensive history of the Ford Foundation than an impressionistic behind-the-scenes account of what it was like to work at the Foundation as it rose to international prominence”.
Through intensely personal insights he encapsulates the promise and limitations of those early years, when the Foundation based its mission and programs on the findings of a committee chaired by Gaither prior to his becoming its president.
“In the euphoria of my youthful…postwar expectations,” he writes, “I almost missed the small signs that the work of the foundation…would be more difficult to achieve than perceived by the authors of the (Gaither) study. They would be encumbered by the limitations, frailties and ambitions of the men and women who guided its affairs as officers, program directors, staff, advisors and grantees.”
One of the major successes he describes is the innovative Green Revolution, born of discussions between Forrest “Frosty” Hill, Ford’s vice president of overseas development, and George Harrar, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, as they rode to and from work together on the train between Scarsdale and the city.
“….the tale of commuting friends who helped conceive an effort that improved the lives of a billion people around the globe is just one of the many wonderful stories shared by Atwater and Walsh,” wrote one reviewer. 
Dr, Atwater also was a member of President Lyndon Johnson’s Task Fiorce on Career Advancement and was appointed by President Gerald Ford as a representative of the mutual savings bank industry on the Electronic Funds Transfer Commission.
His education included a bachelor’s degree from Heidelberg College, which he later served as chairman of the board; a master’s degree from the Harvard Business School, and a doctorate in economics from New York University.
His wife of 62 years, Evelyn Lowe, died in 2005. He is survived by two daughters, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.      
Michael J. Briggs, who in the early 1960s helped establish a national library in Nigeria, died August 29 in Madison, Wis., at the age of 84. 
Mr. Briggs, a native of England who attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, received a Foundation grant in 1962 to work in Lagos on setting up the library system. 
Soon after returning to this country in 1966 he went to work at the University of Wisconsin as an African Studies bibliographer. He then graduated from the university’s law school in 1975 and worked as a parole and probation administrative law judge. He also served three terms as an alderman on the Madison City Council.  
His wife, Norma, also became a lawyer and he joined her practice after retiring as a judge. When his wife died in 2015 he moved to a retirement community in Madison where he continued to practice law pro bono, helping people with estate planning. 
He is survived by three daughters, a son, an African foster son and a brother.
Richard Dye, who worked at the Foundation for 20 years, primarily in the Latin America program, died November 13 at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., at the age of 89.
Mr. Dye worked at the Foundation from 1961 to 1981 in the International Division, the last seven years as representative for South America’s Southern Cone area, which comprises Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
After leaving Ford, he was the executive vice president of the Institute of International Education.
His first wife, Jean English Dye, died after 30 years of marriage. He is survived by his second wife, Anita Meyer Dye, to whom he was married for 36 years; a daughter; a son; two stepsons; a sister and four grandchildren.
Robert S. Wickham died November 7 in Zurich, Switzerland. He was 94.
Mr. Wickham was a program officer for the Ford Foundation in Latin America, serving in various capacities in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Central America and Mexico. He helped create the International Council of the Management of Population Programs (ICOMPP), an organization that continues to operate in the developing world. 
After leaving Ford he was a consultant for the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund, the International Planned Parenthood and the Norwegian Technical Assistance Program.
He also designed and organized the Bangladeshi National Training Center for Family Planning Workers, under the auspices of the World Bank.
Mr. Wickham served in the military in a construction battalion in The Philippines, and with the occupation forces in Japan after World War II.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from Haverford College in 1950, graduating as a Phi Beta Kappa, and earned a master’s degree from Harvard University in 1959 and a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1974.



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