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OBITUARIES / Glenn W. Ferguson, 1929 - 2007

First director of VISTA had varied career

January 07, 2008|From the Washington Post

Glenn W. Ferguson, a former ambassador to Kenya whose career included service as the first director of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), the head of four universities and president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, died of cancer Dec. 20 at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 78.

An associate director of the Peace Corps and the first Peace Corps director in Thailand, he also served as director of VISTA, often called the domestic Peace Corps, from 1964 to 1966.

Named ambassador to Kenya in 1966, he conducted his first news conference in Swahili.

Returning to the United States, Ferguson served as chancellor of Long Island University from 1969 to 1970, president of Clark University in Massachusetts from 1970 to 1973 and president of the University of Connecticut from 1973 to 1978.

From 1978 to 1982, he was president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Munich, Germany. He resigned in the midst of a long-running jurisdictional dispute within the news service's bureaucracy.

He became president of Lincoln Center in 1983, noting that his only musical talent was the bongos. He learned the instrument during his tenure as ambassador to Kenya.

He left Lincoln Center after only nine months, noting in a statement that he was leaving the $125,000-a-year position because "I feel I should pursue the career objectives with which I was associated before coming to the center."

Nathan Leventhal, his successor, told the New York Times in 1988 that Ferguson "didn't know New York or like it much."

Glenn Walker Ferguson was born in 1929 in Syracuse, N.Y., and grew up there and in Bethesda, Md.

He became an Air Force psychological warfare officer in the Philippines and Korea, where his job during the Korean War was to compose propaganda leaflets for dropping behind North Korean lines.

He received a bachelor's degree in economics in 1950 and a master's in business administration in 1951, both from Cornell University. He received a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1957.

Before entering government service during the Kennedy administration, he was a management consultant with McKinsey and Co. and assistant dean of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh.

Ferguson was president of the American University of Paris from 1992 to 1995 and in more recent years was a writer, lecturer and consultant.

He also served as founder and president of Equity for Africa, an innovator in providing small-loan investments to rural entrepreneurs.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Patricia Head Ferguson; a daughter, Sherry Ferguson Zoellick of McLean, Va.; two sons, Bruce of Great Falls, Va., and Scott of Berkeley; and four grandchildren.

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