Thursday, January 14, 2016

In Memory of George Elsey

Written by: Linda Mathes, CEO, American Red Cross in the National Capital Region

In case you have not heard the news, the American Red Cross lost a distinguished member of our team on December 30, 2015 – George M. Elsey. I feel so lucky to have known him, to have had discussions with him, and to have been inspired by him. And, if you aren’t already, I invite you to become aware of him and his life and be inspired by him too.

At 97, he passed away in Californiabut had spent 60 years of his life in DC, which included volunteer work with our chapter decades ago. Elsey began volunteering with our chapter, then called the District of Columbia Chapter, after leaving government service in 1953. He was such an incredible leader; he went from Chapter Committee Chair to national volunteer, ARC Vice President to President and finally, President Emeritus. Elsey was the only Red Cross chief executive ever to be designated emeritus.

As President of the ARC from 1970 to 1982, Elsey steered ARC through challenges such as the Vietnam War, rough economies, and the movement away from dependency on United Way funding to an independent, sustainable fundraising program. As President, he oversaw a fourfold increase in income and expanded operations for blood donations and medical services. 

As an internationalist, Elsey embraced the worldwide Red Cross movement. In 1973, he was appointed to the finance commission of what is now the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In 1989, the Federation gave Elsey its highest award – the Henry Dunant Medal, named for the founder of the Red Cross.

Elsey came to Washington, DC as a young officer in the Naval Reserve to work in the top-secret White House intelligence office during World War II. This is where he became acquainted with President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and was privy to discussions about principal strategies of World War II. An avid historian, Elsey managed to go with the troops for D-Day landing at Omaha Beach. Elsey was one of the last links to the Roosevelt White House. He returned to White House duty becoming top advisor, speechwriter and political strategist to President Truman. During this time, he introduced President Truman to the Manhattan Project, drafted notable civil rights addresses, and worked on Truman’s executive order desegregating military and Federal civil service jobs. He also conceptualized and orchestrated Truman’s 1948 “Whistle-Stop” presidential campaign which won Truman an unexpected, second presidential term. After leaving the White House in 1951, Elsey held a variety of positions including the Mutual Security Administration, coordinating foreign aid programs, Pullman Inc., and presidential advisor to Clark Clifford.

Of all his work during his illustrious national and international service, Elsey was proudest of his time with the American Red Cross. As he recalled in his biography An Unplanned Life, his time with the Red Cross were his “Capstone” years. 

For more details about this remarkable American, click here:

You are an important part of his legacy and for all you do to keep it going, thank you!

George Elsey may be gone, but he never will be forgotten. Within the American Red Cross his humanitarianism, organizational acumen, and commitment serve as a reminder of the significance of our work together. 

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