Tribute to Harriet Mayor Fulbright

Senator Fulbright and Harriet Mayor Fulbright visit Korea to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program in Korea. (Sept. 20, 1990)

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that Harriet Mayor Fulbright, Senator Fulbright’s widow and the first Executive Director of the Fulbright Association, has died. With her passing, we mark the end of an era, and the loss of a singular leader in our community. Apart from the Senator, Harriet was the Program’s greatest ambassador and advocate because she spoke about its impact with such force, passion, and commitment. You knew you were among Fulbright royalty in her presence, as she carried herself with such dignity and charisma—but in ways that were so approachable and friendly.

She had and was loved by many friends around the world. Some of them have shared their memories with me. Ann Lewis recalls how “smart, lively, and dedicated” Harriet was and how Harriet was “reborn” after the Senator’s death with a new job in the Clinton Administration. She remembers Harriet’s stories of traveling to Cyprus with Fulbrighter artist Dale Chihuly. Judy Dollenmayer wrote that Harriet was “a woman of great intelligence, humor, and a talent for leadership that meant so much to so many…She never last hope in humankind… (and was) a model of a life well lived and savored.” Jody Olson said, “Harriet was a mentor, friend, and wonderful professional colleague to me for decades.”

I invite you to read Sherry Mueller’s full tribute here, but allow me to quote from that blog on the Public Diplomacy Council of American website:

For some years Harriet was my neighbor. Whether I asked her to provide a homestay for a visiting Dutch scholar, or to loan a large cooking pot for a buffet dinner she would be attending, the answer was always an enthusiastic yes. Her generosity, her vivaciousness, and her encouraging ways are remembered with gratitude. She was a remarkable ambassador for the Fulbright Program and a force for good in our turbulent world. 

It is difficult to measure the full impact of Harriet’s leadership as the first Executive Director of the Association. Among many challenges she met was moving the new organization from Bryn Mawr College to Washington. Then board member Mary Jane Roberts, who recruited and interviewed Harriet for the position, recalls that she “was perfect… with the skills to define the mission and make it happen—and she certainly did!”  Mary Jane asks, “Who could have foreseen all she would accomplish? We are all her beneficiaries and mourn her passing.”

Harriet Fulbright & John Bader

Many Association board chairs echo Mary Jane’s words. Cynthia Ackron Baldwin, our current chair, wrote Harriet “was a gracious woman and will be missed.” DeDe Long said Harriet had “a remarkable life indeed.” And Mary Ellen Heian Schmider concluded that Harriet, “… has now entered history as a woman of stature: charming and effective representing the Fulbright Program and its founder, but a woman of achievement in her own right in the era of US engagement with the globe…” Mary Ellen’s full blog post can be found here.

I consider it a great honor to have known Harriet Fulbright. She was always engaging and supportive, wishing the best for the Association, and giving counsel to me and many of her successors as Executive Director. I will cherish the many times I spent with her, particularly the last time, several years ago while she still lived in Washington. She invited me to tea, and we spent a long afternoon chatting about the Senator, her work, the Fulbright Association, and our shared hopes for a brighter future. My phone occasionally features the picture taken of us two at that tea, and it always makes me smile.

I invite you to share memories and stories of Harriet, commenting on Association posts found on our Facebook and LinkedIn channels. We have all lost a great lady, a role model, and a dear friend.

John Bader
Executive Director, Fulbright Association

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3 Responses

  1. Carol Sterling

    I will always cherish the memories of Harriet Fulbright. When I was Director of Education for the then American Council for the Arts (now called Americans for the Arts) in the l990s, Harriet spoke at many of our arts advocacy events championing the importance of arts education in the lives of young people. Her thoughtful and inspiring comments contributed significantly to our ability to gain support for the US Department of Education and state departments of education to add the arts, e.g., visual, performing, literary arts to the required curriculum in school districts across America. She truly was an outstanding advocate for the arts, a gifted role model and mentor to all who care deeply about the arts ij American society.
    Carol Sterling

  2. Patricia Holland

    October 23, 2013, Harriet Mayor Fulbright delivered the first HarvEst Distingushed Women Lecture Series hosted by the Graduate Division of UC Berkeley at International House, where I had the privilege of meeting her. 

    In her address she remarked: “The history of the Fulbright Program is the tale of a man who used his experience and intellect to create something for the benefit of the whole world and to change the course of human history.”

    Though this was the first (and only) time I met Harriet, her gracious, engaging way made me feel as if we had known each other for a very long time.  I am certain others at the reception left feeling the same.

    Harriet Mayor Fulbright in her own right was far more than a part of the Fulbright tale – and we are forever grateful.

    Patricia Holland
    UK, 1995-96

  3. Linda Alter

    She taught me an appreciation for pottery as a teenager because I was friends with her daughter Evie , one of three she had with her husband before senator Fulbright. Harriet was an artist in her own right and even taught art at our high school. She had a potters wheel in her basement studio. Pretty amazing!! She was approachable and elegant at the same time.

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