Category Archives: In Memoriam

In Memoriam

Professor Richard Pankhurst with a model of an Axum stele

Richard Pankhurst “Champion of Ethiopian culture” ( December 3, 1927-February 16, 2017)

It is rare that an expatriate is held in as high esteem in a country as have members of the Pankhurst family been held in Ethiopia. It is with great sorrow that the world learned of the passing of Richard Pankhurst, of Great Britain, on February 16, 2017 in Addis Ababa at the age of 89. Richard Pankhurst was the son of famed suffragette, Sylvia Pankhurst, a hero to Ethiopia in her own right and who received a full state funeral in Ethiopia at the time of her death.

Richard Pankhurst is a noted scholar, having written more than twenty books on Ethiopia. He taught at Addis Ababa University, then known as the University College of Addis Ababa, and was a founding director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in 1962.  During his career he edited the Journal of Ethiopian Studies and the Ethiopia Observer.

Of great significance was his advocacy for the return cultural artefacts taken by British troops in 1868 and the 1,700 year-old obelisk taken from Axum by Mussolini’s forces. The Obelisk of Axum stood in the Piazza de Porta Capena in Rome until 2005.  It was returned and re-erected in Axum in 2008 and both Pankhurst and his wife Rita were in attendance for the dedication.

U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia posted on Facebook:

The U.S. Embassy mourns the loss of the great scholar of Ethiopian history, Richard Pankhurst. Dr. Pankhurst was a renowned and highly respected scholar who was a founding member of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and former professor at the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. His long standing and dedicated study of Ethiopian history had a profound impact on the study and understanding of Ethiopia, and is an example for others to follow. We honor his life and work and offer our deep condolences to his family and close friends.

Followers of the Facebook post and others paid tribute: “a hero,” “a son of Ethiopia,” and “one of Ethiopia’s greatest friends.”

Our colleagues posted on the E&E RPCV Facebook or in emails:

  • James Gage: He was a fine man and tireless friend of Ethiopia.
  • Paul Doherty: I worked for Dr. Pankhurst at Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa during the summer of 1969 between my two years in Ethiopia. I recall him as soft-spoken and scholarly and very much a gentleman.
  • Sandra Tychsen: In 2013, my daughter and I (who is writing a dissertation on the Peace Corps in East Africa), were invited for tea with Dr. Pankhurst and his wife Rita. We were daunted and honoured. Despite advanced illness, he conveyed kindness and erudition. Dr. Pankhurst, who could barely speak, tried very nicely, twinkling, to sort out a confused conversation between his wife and me — an absurd misunderstanding about leopards vs. lepers in Addis in the ’60s.
  • Gerry Jones: While his recent years have been difficult with health issues, that is dwarfed by his enormous contribution over the years. . . . My wife and I saw him just a week ago at the launch of the “wide 20” book (“Change and Transformation in Twenty Rural Communities in Ethiopia” edited by his son, Alula.

An extensive reflection on Dr. Pankhurst by Phillip LeBel (Emdeber 1964–67) may be found in the elsewhere in this issue.

Our condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.

Postscript:

Gerald R. Jones (Dessie, Debre Berhan 1967–71, 1972) attended the funeral of Richard Pankhurst at Saint Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa and related the following:

Went to the Pankhurst funeral on Tuesday, February 21st. Regretfully photos were not possible from where I was sitting.

It was a grand send off. We (family, friends, admirers) were seated under awnings set up on the steps of the grand Trinity Cathedral.The coffin was processed into the Churchyard behind a military band playing the “dies irae” and accompanied by old warriors from the Patriots’ Association. Richard’s grave site is next to his mother, Sylvia, which is in a very prominent location in front of the entrance to the Cathedral.

The service was conducted by the Patriarch himself (HH Abune Matthias) with many prayers and blessings offered by a bevy of bishops and clergy. President Teshome Mulatu was in attendance, as was a large number of professors and staff from Addis Ababa University, representatives of civil society and many ordinary citizens who appreciated Richard’s devotion to Ethiopia.

The British Ambassador and several ranking Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia officials spoke. Richard’s son, Alula Pankhurst, spoke (in his flawless Amharic) in tribute to his father.

Richard came to Ethiopia in 1956 as a professor of economic history. In addition to his founding and leading the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at AAU for many years, Richard authored approximately 25 books on Ethiopia and hundreds of articles; he also founded “The Association for the Restoration of the Magdela Treasures (books, artifacts, sacred tabots stolen during the British incursion against Teodros) and was instrumental in securing the return of the Axum obelisk that had been taken to Rome during the Occupation.

Throughout the funeral, Richard’s widow, Rita, was supported by their children Alula and Helen.

There is a nice little book done by Richard and Rita Ethiopian Reminiscences, Early Days. It is a good picture of their life in Addis Ababa in those days.

If any E&E readers are in Addis Ababa, they might want to visit the historic Trinity Cathedral Churchyard. It is choc-a-bloc with historical personages. Emperor Haile Selassie and his family are entombed inside the Cathedral (as is the custom for Emperors); former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is buried here (for the moment, though his own  mausoleum is under construction out in Gulele); the 68 members of the Imperial government who were executed in Nov 1974 at the beginning of the Revolution are buried in a single grave with a striking and simple modern style monument; singer Tilahun Gessese, novelist Sibihat Gebre Egziabher are also there. The whole place is a monument to modern Ethiopian history!


Wendell Brooks, Makelle 1962-64, Ethiopia I

Julian Brooks, son of Wendell Brooks (Makelle, 1962-64) brought to The Herald’s attention that his father passed away in 2012.

Wendell singing

After graduation from Whittier College (Whittier, CA), Wendell served in the Peace Corps in Makelle,Ethiopia, lived in Europe, earning his Master’s Degree from Uppsala University in Sweden, and returned to the United States in 1971. For the rest of his life he taught primarily at California State University East Bay, Berkeley High School, and Holy Names University. Wendell was in the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Ethiopia.

A tribute to his life may be viewed on this obituary. He was indeed an educator, singer, and citizen of the world.


Douglas J McKelvey (Ghion 66– 68); October 13, 2013

Doug was born in Aurora, IL, to James and Henrietta McKelvey. He graduated from high school, went off to Cornell College (IA), where he met and married his wife Susan. Doug and Susan volunteered as teachers for the Peace Corps in Ethiopia for two years before returning to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa.  Doug then taught at North Carolina A&T before joining the U.S. Department of Transportation, retiring after over 30 years.


Herbert Siegel

Herbert Siegel

Herb Siegel (Addis Ababa 62–64) August 16, 2016

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he moved to California after high school. He met his wife, Suzanne, on a blind date at UC Berkeley summer session, and they have been best friends for 56 years. As soon as he graduated from UC Berkeley as a math major in 1962, he and Suzanne joined the Peace Corps, serving as teachers in Ethiopia for two years. Returning to the United States, he obtained a M.A. in math and started his 40-year career as a computer programmer.


Maura T. Smith

Maura T. Smith

Maura Smith (Addis Ababa 62-64), January 3, 2017

Maura unselfishly served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia during the Kennedy Administration.

 

 


Ty Vignone

Ty Vignone

Ty Vignone (Asmara, Eritrea 1962-64), 2016

Ty was born in E. Longmeadow, MA in 1937. He was the son of the late Daniel and Marion and the brother of Tim.  Prior to his 51-year career as a teacher, he served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia from 1962 to 1964. Ty began teaching at Day Junior High School in Newton in 1965. He moved to Newton North High School in 1983, and taught there until this year. Ty instituted two programs for students that were often life-changing. One was the Close-Up Program, when he and his students would spend the week in Washington, D.C. learning about the government first hand. In recognition of his tenure and his dedication to teaching students about government, Ty was recognized by both Joe Kennedy, III and Elizabeth Warren.  Ty made life-long friends with many co-workers in the Peace Corps and fellow skiers. He was an inspiration to his fellow teachers.


Will G. Hall

Will G. Hall

Will G. Hall    (Dire Dawa, Addis Ababa 1962-65) January 3, 2017

He was born on August 17, 1940, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of Pastor Willie Hall and Virginia (Ashworth) Hall. Will and his four siblings grew up in Morehead City on the North Carolina coast, where he developed a lifelong love for the ocean and fried fish. Following graduation from North Carolina Central College in 1962, Will became one of the founding members of the Peace Corps and was in the first group of Volunteers sent to Ethiopia.


john-timmons

John Timmons

John Timmons,  (Asbe Teferi 1964-67)    June 2, 2016

Born December 21, 1942 in Chillicothe, John was a native of Clarksburg, and attended Clarksburg schools, graduating from Clarksburg High School in 1960. After graduating from Marietta College in 1964, he served in the Peace Corps until 1967, teaching school in Asbe Tefari, Ethopia. While there he was able to travel throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. In 1965 he traveled to Tanzania and summited Mt. Kilimanjaro after a three day climb.Following his return from Ethiopia, John taught school in the Columbus Public Schools for several years and enrolled in graduate studies at the Ohio State University.


 

 

 

In Memoriam

 An RPCV remembers Richard Pankhurst

by Phillip LeBel (Emdeber 1964-67)

This is an account of my friendship with Richard Pankhurst (1927–2017), a noted historian, and founder and Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, who passed away on February 16, 2017. 

I FIRST CAME TO KNOW Richard Pankhurst while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer history teacher in Emdeber, Shoa, Ethiopia in 1967. At that time I was teaching a successive cohort of students who were progressing through the opening of grades 9 through 12 during the 1965 to 1968 years that I taught in the Emdeber public secondary school.

In my lesson plans, I followed the Ethiopian School Curriculum for history, which was based on the London O level standards then in place. Each year, students in history examined a concentric circle of events around a specific time period, beginning first with Ethiopian history, followed by African history, and then world history.

As students had few textbooks, including a 1935 history by Jones and Monroe that even looked favorably on Mussolini’s claims over the 1934 Wal Wal (Welwel) incident that served as a pretext for the invasion of Ethiopia that began the following year. In response to the dearth of materials, I would buy books at the Giannopolis book store on Churchill Road in Addis, and then, using extracts, integrate them into stenciled mimeograph sheets that I used to teach the various modules.

At the end of the year, I would have students bring me their mimeographed sheets, which I would then staple together with a table of contents and cover sheet so that they would have a take-away textbook of their own. I still have copies of the four years’ worth of history text materials that I developed while teaching history to students in the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Before leaving Ethiopia to return to the U.S. in July 1968, I gave all of the history stencils to the Peace Corps office where I was told that they would be made available to any incoming Peace Corps Volunteer. I don’t think they survived the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974.

MY PEACE CORPS CONTRACT initially was set to terminate at the end of spring in 1966. Volunteers were given the option of leaving in July 1966, or extending their contract. I chose to extend my contract by one year, thus completing my Peace Corps service in July 1967. However, because I was so involved with teaching an advancing cohort of students who by then had only completed grade eleven, I decided to stay an additional year under a contract with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education. In the 1967-1968 year, I taught the cohort whom I had first met in 1965 and who then were prepared to take their twelfth grade leaving exams. Out of 21 students in history who took the exam, seven passed the test. At the time, I was told that this was exceptional for students in a rural school system. I have never inquired as to whether this was true or not.

These great books by Richard Pankhurst were sources for my mimeographed textbook.

These great books by Richard Pankhurst were sources for my mimeographed textbook.

Along the way of teaching, I came to know Norman Singer, another Peace Corps Volunteer who was teaching law at Haile Selassie I University in Addis Ababa. Through Norman, I was introduced to Richard Pankhurst, founder and Director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at the University. Richard already had carved out a notable reputation for his writings on Ethiopian history. I had used extracts from two of his books in my mimeo texts: Travelers in Ethiopia (Oxford University Press, 1965), and The Ethiopian Royal Chronicles (Oxford University Press, 1967).

Around that time, I told Richard that I was developing preliminary text materials for use in the Ethiopian secondary school history curriculum. He encouraged me to consider having them published by Oxford University Press, the publisher of the two aforementioned texts he had edited. I decided to stay the additional year and began discussions with the then Addis representative of Oxford University Press.

Through a series of events unrelated to my friendship with Richard Pankhurst, this never came to pass. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the opportunity to have worked on the project while I contemplated what I might do once I would be leaving Ethiopia to attend graduate school in the fall of 1968.

WHILE TEACHING secondary school history in Emdeber, I asked students what they could tell me of the history of their family, clan, and region from which they had come. Though most students had come from one of the Sabat Bét Gurage groups, some had come from as far away as Hosanna, where the Hadiya were more prevalent. From my reaching out to students, I also began looking into what was known about the Gurage from writings in the library of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Haile Selassie I University in Addis.

One book I came across was a record of a French government commissioned expedition by two explorers, F. Azaïs and R. Chambard, Cinq années de recherches archéologique en Éthiopie, province du Harar et Éthiopie (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste, Paul Geuthner, 1931). One volume in the series recounts a muleback trip they took down the Rift Valley in 1926. In their account, they took photographs of rock-hewn stone carvings near Butajira, in Soddo Gurage country, not far from Lake Zwai. That they were carved in stone suggested that they pre-dated the expansion of both Orthodox Christianity and Islam in the region of Sidamo.

Given the proximity of Butajira to Sabat Bét Gurage country, Richard Pankhurst, Norman Singer, and I set out in 1967 to see whether and of these stones were still extant. Arriving in Butajira and speaking with local residents, we found one stone that had been photographed by Azaïs and Chambard. It was lying on an angle in a grain field.

Statue leaning in a field near Butajira.

A photo I took in 1967 shows what it looked like then. Noting the distinctive markings, Richard obtained relocation permits from the Ministry of Interior for placing them in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies collection. This stone, along with a few others brought up subsequently with the collaboration and support of Professor Hailu Fulass, now constitute part of the collection in the Institute. I took a photo of three of these stones and a detailed photo of one of them in 1968. When I returned to Ethiopia to teach at the University in 2009, the stones looked only slightly more weathered than they did when first placed there in 1968.

Another stone in Gurageland

From this expeditionary experience in 1967, I learned from some of my students in Emdeber that similar stones were located in Sabat Bét Gurage country. In an unsuccessful relocation sequel, Richard, Norman, and I made plans for a government authorized acquisition of one stone in Ezha, one of the Sabat Bét Gurage groups, to be taken to the Institute of Ethiopian Studies. On the day of our planned retrieval, I learned that it was still being used for ceremonial animal sacrifices. At that point, I decided that as long as such stones had an ongoing active spiritual function, no effort should be made to remove them. I do not know if the stones in Ezha were still there in my 2009 visit as I did not have time to make a return visit.

OUT OF MY LOCAL OUTREACH to students from my days as a secondary history teacher in Emdeber, I wound up writing two articles for the Journal of Ethiopian Studies. “On Gurage Architecture” was published in 1969 and “Oral Traditions and Chronicles on Gurage Immigration” was published in 1974. By that time, I was already busy with writing my doctoral thesis in economics, and so my engagement with Ethiopia was put aside, even though I still continued to follow events in what were then revolutionary times that led to the downfall of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974.

AFTER A CAREER IN teaching, research, and consulting in economics, I managed to obtain another Fulbright grant to return to Ethiopia in 2009, to teach in the graduate program in economics at Addis Ababa University. I was delighted to re-connect with so many friends and former students from years gone by, including Richard Pankhurst, then retired from the directorship of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, even though he continued to write and lobby on behalf of Ethiopian historical causes. In the process I wound up preparing a presentation to SOFIES, the Society of Friends of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University, in the spring of 2009. Richard Pankhurst, as ever a friend, was able to attend the presentation. He thought that my topic, “Social Identity and Economic Well-Being Among the Gurage: Some Historical Comparisons,” was a suitable topic for publication by the Journal of Ethiopian Studies. I refined a version of the presentation and submitted it to the editor, but to my knowledge, it has never been published.

While I have not returned to Ethiopia since 2009, I have been giving some thought to such a trip, possibly as a visiting scholar at a local university on a short-term visit. That I might return and no longer have such a friend as Richard Pankhurst to inspire work in a field that has been a long-standing interest, but largely unrelated to work I have done as an academic economist, would not be the same. I shall miss his presence. This said, the impact of the numerous projects in which he was engaged and supported will live on for generations to come.

Richard Pankhurst in a classroom

In Memorium

Bartley A. Brennen (Yirgalem 1964–66)


Michael Morris (Derbe Zeit 1963–65) South Park PA

Edmund Lynch writes The Herald:
“Mike and I were classmates at St Francis College, PA and colleagues is Ethiopia. Ethiopia II Volunteer Mike Morris passed away suddenly on May 17 at his home in Pittsburgh. Mike served in Debre Zeit from 1963 to 1965 where he taught in the University Extension Program. Mike was raised in the Wilkinsburg section of Pittsburgh. He graduated from St. Francis College, PA where he excelled on the tennis and cross country teams. After Peace Corps service, Mike earned graduate degrees from Duquesne and the University of Pittsburgh. He devoted himself to teaching students in Pittsburgh schools and was noted for leading them on walking tours  of historic neighborhoods including the settings of the plays of August Wilson.
Mike is survived by his wife Nancy and his daughter Julie and son Jeff.
Mike was a good man who is missed by many.”

 


 

In Memoriam

E&E RPCVs welcomes your remembrances of fellow PCVs who have passed away.


Mike Feldstein

Mike Feldstein

Michael Feldstein  (Massawa, Eritrea; Dire Dawa 1963–65) — 4/13/2016

 


 

Dr. Philip Littman (Asella 1962–64) — 3/16/2016

littman-p-withwife

Trish and Phil Littman

Dr. Philip Littman, July 13, 1941–March 16, 2016. Retired radiation oncologist (B.A. Stanford M.D. University of Maryland School of Medicine, who trained, taught, and practiced with the U.S Public Health Service, University of Pennsylvania, Mass General/Harvard Medicine, RI Hospital/Brown Medicine, Southern WI Radiotherapy Center and Volunteers in Medicine, among others.  Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia/Eritrea 1962-64. Beloved husband of 48 years to Trish Littman, father to Rachel and Josh, grandfather to Adam, Amanda, Levi, and Savannah.  Avid sailor, consummate and energetic learner.  Touched many lives. He lives in our hearts.  (New York Times).

To see a further obituary notice, sign the guestbook or make donations, please visit: http://www.riversidememorialchapel.com/obituaries/show/2628

On behalf of the RPCVs, the editor of The Herald sent the following note through Mel Tewahade, Denver, who attended the Shiva in New York:

Please find this note of sympathy from the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Ethiopia to the family of Dr. Philip Littman.  Many Volunteers remember Phil fondly for his time spent in Assella, Ethiopia during the early 60s, an exciting time as we reached out to the people of Ethiopia in service.  Other Volunteers met Phil during the Return to Ethiopia in 2012.  His kindness, commitment to service, and love for the country of Ethiopia prevailed 50 years later.  From his Peace Corps Ethiopia family to yours.

On behalf of Peace Corps Ethiopia,
Janet Lee, Editor, The Herald, and Board Member

 

To which his wife, Trish responded:

Mel Tewahade, Trish Littman, and Prince Ermias

Mel Tewahade, Trish Littman, and Prince Ermias

Mel, I was delighted to meet you after years of hearing Phil talk about you. You came all the way from Colorado to express your sorrow about his passing from ALS! Bringing Prince Ermias Saleh Selassie to my shivah gave me great comfort. I regret we had so little time to share more Phil stories.

Please send the note below to Janet Lee. I would also like her help in pursuing the incidence of ALS among RPCVs. I know that two out of 300 Volunteers from that first group (1962-1964) to Ethiopia/Eritrea may be a statistical coincidence, but it begs further scientific inquiry. There are other facts to share about ALS. I am a medical sociologist and have Phil’s same curiosity.

Warmly,
Trish

Thank you for your kind words. Phil loved Ethiopia and its people, from 1962, his first year in Addis Ababa, through his second in Asella to the 50th reunion in 2012. I was deeply touched by the condolence visit paid by Mel Tewahade and HIH Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie who both came from great distances to honor his memory.

Warmly,
Trish

To the Volunteers who would like to follow up with Trish Littman on the ALS query, please contact Janet Lee.


Bob St. John

Bob St. John

Robert Owen [Bob] St. John (Guennet [Shoa], Nego [Wollega], Henna [Illubabor],  Jimma [Kaffa] 1970–72, 1973-74) — 1/16/2016

 


In Memoriam

Burr Angle (Harar 1963–65)
See Rob Albritton and Pat Egan Bolles remembrances of Burr

Babbette Brackette (Addis Ababa 1964-1966) died in July, 2013.

Josh Brackette (Addis Ababa 1964-1966) died April 26, 2012.

John R. [Jack] Dugan (Dessie 1964–66) died November 4, 2009.

Judy Minkus (Jimma 1968–72) (formerly Judy Lawson) died 8/30/2015.

E. John [Jack] Prebis (Gondar, Addis Ababa 1962–64, PC/W staff 1964–65, PC/Ethiopia 1965–67: Associate Peace Corps Director) died Oct. 22, 2015.
To sign the Guest Book.
See also Dick Lipez’s salute to Jack.

Gerald Solberg (Dessie, Addis Ababa 1962–64) died 10/4/15

Click on linked names to read published obituaries.

If you would like to write a remembrance or share a link to an obituary of a deceased fellow Volunteer, send it to Editor Janet Lee at janet.lee35 [at] gmail [dot] com

 

In Memorium

Remembering Jack Prebis (1933-2015)

by Dick Lipez (Debre Marcos, Addis Ababa 1962–64)

Edward John “Jack” Prebis, 82, died at his home in Leverett, Massachusetts, on October 22, 2015. Jack had suffered from a number of ailments the last few years, and in the end they all ganged up on him fatally. In the weeks preceding his death, Jack had been looked after by many friends and neighbors who loved him. Among them were pals from Ethiopia I Peace Corps days, 1962-64.

Jack’s obituary in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on December 5, written by his nieces back in the Midwest, describes his childhood on a Wisconsin farm and then growing up and going to college, Loyola University, in Chicago. After two years in the Army, Jack worked at a bank. Pretty bored by that, and with a strong sense of wanting to be socially useful, he joined the Peace Corps and soon found himself in Gondar, Ethiopia.

jack-funny-book

Jack in the Ethi I Funny Book

In Gondar, Jack taught math and science at the secondary school. His organizational skills, calm demeanor, and his nice way with people soon led to administrative duties. He was a kind of assistant headmaster who was much respected at the school.

After two years, Jack was one of a number of Ethi Ones who followed Ethiopia country director Harris Wofford back to Peace Corps headquarters in Washington. Jack’s job for a year was developing the Book Locker that each Volunteer household received back in those days. He later described it as “the best job I ever had.” Jack  picked all of the 250 titles and managed to include, despite State Department anxiety, Catch 22. (He gave in and deleted No Exit. Which was just as well — “Hell is other people” isn’t an appropriate Peace Corps mantra.)

Jack loved his Peace Corps/Washington job. The agency, he later wrote, was “fresh, free-wheeling and un-bureaucratic, shot through with idealists.” But Ethiopia called once again, and after a year in DC he returned to Addis Ababa as an Associate Country Director. Among his worthy tasks was getting Volunteers out of big-town clusters and into remote burgs that had been left out of the first wave of American teachers that hit the country in 1962.

Post-Peace Corps, Jack worked as a Volunteers in Service to America administrator for several years, overseeing the work of VISTA volunteers across the lower 48, as well as in Alaska and the South Pacific.

From 1974 to 1994, Jack was back in Washington at OPM, the Office of Personnel Management. He eventually became, in effect, the chief financial officer for the entire federal bureaucracy. This was a very-big-deal job — he had a corner office with a flag next to his desk — but he approached it with the same mix of modesty and put-in-an-honest-days-work that was characteristic of everything he did. At OPM, Jack’s droll humor stood him in good stead, too. In an essay about his earlier Book Locker job, he wrote, “Sad to say, as a financial management bureaucrat for the Feds, I no longer get paid for reading fiction. Though I sometimes wonder .  .  .. ”

After Jack retired and moved to Massachusetts near some of his old Gondar friends, he continued to travel, which he loved, and take pictures, at which he excelled. There’s a plan to get his exquisite Ethiopia photos into the Ethiopia/Eritrea Peace Corps collection at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

Jack also collected art and Amish quilts. He went bungee jumping in New Zealand and took flying lessons briefly. As his Daily Gazette obituary pointed out, “He was always proud of his Polish roots and enjoyed studying his family history.”

Jack is survived by his sister Jean Prebis and her partner Judy, by several nieces and nephews, and by many grand-nieces and grand-nephews in Wisconsin. I met two of his nieces, Jean Schmidt and Mary Ann Eidem, and the wife, Jan Helfenberger, of a nephew, at an Amherst get-together a few weeks after Jack’s death, and they all spoke lovingly about “adventurous” Uncle Jack.

His beloved greyhound, Cookie, has found a new home she reportedly likes.

I have a lot of fondly remembered Jack Prebis travel stories, including some recent ones about visiting Thailand and rural Laos with him and our friend Jane Campbell Beaven, who was on the Ethiopia staff with Jack back in the ’60s. One my favorite Jack-out-in-the-world stories is from 27 years ago.

In 1988, at the height of the Mengistu horrors in Ethiopia, Jack and I went back there as journalists. I had wangled an assignment from the “Outlook” section of the Washington Post. Ostensibly, we would report on two PCVs returning after 25 years. Our visa applications said we wished to report on “developments in secondary education.” Our real aim, of course, was to do a job on the Mengistu regime, and I think whoever approved the hard-to-get visas probably knew what we were up to and had his own reasons for giving the okay.

Jack, meanwhile, came up with an additional wrinkle. Mengistu was in a bloody war with, among others, the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front. An Eritrean acquaintance of Jack’s in Washington said we really ought to visit the EPLF in rebel-held Eritrea and tell the story of what many at the time considered Africa’s most humane liberation army. Jack managed to obtain an assignment from Mother Jones magazine; he would take pictures and I would report and write the story of the EPLF’s noble cause. (Later on the EPLF morphed into something dreadful, but at the time, who knew?)

So. After two weeks in Addis (where a former student of mine told me with a laugh that people were talking about Jack and me as “those two CIA guys”), we made our way to Khartoum and then to Port Sudan, where the EPLF had an office. Nobody there knew quite who we were — word from DC hadn’t made it through — but a Toyota Land Cruiser was soon leaving for “the field,” and we were welcome to ride along. Among my vivid memories of that night-time bumpy ride on a dirt track down the Red Sea coast is one of Jack in the backseat next to a guy with an AK-47 that was lodged between the soldier’s knees and aimed pretty much at Jack’s head. From up front, I heard Jack say, “Hey, would you mind pointing that thing in some other direction?”

I asked him later if it was at that moment that he started having second thoughts about what our friends in Addis were discreetly referring to as “Dick and Jack’s other visit.” He said something like, “Mmm.”

We spent ten days in the mountains, traveling only at night with the car lights out, mostly up and down dry stream beds. We visited EPLF installations — schools under trees; a schoolbook printing operation; the EPLF political capital in a stone hut in Orota; and a pharmaceutical factory in a cave. We interviewed top EPLF officials — not including Isaias Afewerki, who was at the war front, which we chose to avoid — and we talked with Ethiopian prisoners of war. Most of them were young men who had been dragged off schools yards unwillingly to fight for Mengistu. They reminded us of our students 25 years earlier, and it was painful to see these kids huddled on a hillside, hot and bored, surrounded by armed guards and doing nothing, their young lives wasted.

Among Jack’s terrific pictures of that trip is one of an angry tribal woman, part of a group whose village had been bombed by Ethiopian MIGs. She told us that the EPLF had provided her with powdered milk and with wheat (pilfered from USAID in Sudan). But, she asked, trembling with rage, “Where am I supposed to get any coffee?”

War is hell, but sometimes it’s just heck, and that can be bad enough. Jack’s pictures show both.

The EPLF kept us safe, and they housed and fed us as well as they could. We ate donated corn flakes in Maltese Tang and tinned anchovies with pasta. We got sick, but we didn’t get shot. Unfortunately, the Mother Jones editor who assigned the story left the magazine while we were incommunicado, and the new editor wasn’t interested in the EPLF. Our story never ran (we were given a puny kill fee), though the magazine did use some of Jack’s photos in a brochure. (The Washington Post story did run and helped spread the word of harsh life under Mengistu.)

The EPLF adventure was in important ways a fiasco. But here’s something that happened that made it all worthwhile. The EPLF fighters and volunteers were wary of visitors like us. Other journalists had come and gone, and nothing had changed for these freedom-fighters living tough, dangerous lives in the wilderness. But for Jack and me the cool skepticism that we met vanished whenever we mentioned that we weren’t just reporters, but that we had been Peace Corps Volunteers. Men and women would break into grins, and greet us, and tell how years before they had been taught English or typing or maths in Asmara by Miss so-and-so or Mister so-and-so. Now they were using the skills they had been taught by PCVs to free their country, and they recalled their Peace Corps teachers with fondness and gratitude.

I loved it that Jack, a guy at a desk in DC, had had the casual gall to lure me into this mis-adventure that turned out not to do much for the Eritrean cause, but  did so much to add to our own ongoing education about the worth of the Peace Corps and its place in Ethiopian and Eritrean history. We talked for years afterwards about our visit to “the field” and what it meant to us. It was characteristic of Jack that he would roll his eyes and shake his head over so much about that trip. (I’m sure that well-mannered Jack was aghast that I got into an argument with a swindling taxi driver in Port Sudan and yelled at him that Jack and I were going to walk the four miles to the EPLF office.) But as with so much of Jack’s rich good life, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

After his Peace Corps service in Ethiopia, Dick Lipez worked for three years as a Peace Corps program evaluator. Later he worked in community action before becoming a journalist and fiction writer. He writes a series of private eye novels under the name Richard Stevenson, and reviews books for The Washington Post. Lipez is married to sculptor and video artist Joe Wheaton. They live in Becket, MA.


In Memorium

Remembering Burr Angle (Harar 1963–65)

Rob Albritton (Harar 63–65 writes:
From 1963 to ’64 Burr Angle (Eth II, 63–65), Jim Brannon (Ethi I, 62–64), and myself (Eth II 63–65) shared a house together in Harar. As house mates we got along very well, and as I recall we spent a good deal of time exploring what was a very interesting city and region of Ethiopia. Burr and I worked at the new University Extension Program run by the Peace Corps where he taught English and I Political Science. We also both taught English in an elementary school. Burr was quiet, very bright, and had a wry sense of humor.

For the 1964-55 school year I was transferred to Asmara, and don’t know how Burr did in our second year, but I imagine the household would have changed since I left at the end of the teaching year and Jim Brannon  left to return to the US. It is possible that Burr kept the house and was joined by two Eth. III Volunteers. After leaving Ethiopia in 1965 I never saw Burr again, but I think that he became an academic. I am sorry to hear of his death. He was a fine man.

Patricia Egan Bolles (Harar 63–66) writes:
Thank you for notifying me of Burr’s death.

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CLICK to see Burr with the rest of the faculty of Harar Secondary School, 1963

I have wonderful memories of my time in Harar and Burr was part of much of it. We were both assigned to the University Extension Program (evening classes), but by the second year we were also teaching at the secondary school where there were many PCV III’s (64–66), one French PC man, an Ethi I, and, of course, Indian and Ethiopian teachers.

Burr thoroughly enjoyed teaching at both locations and was always prepared and enthusiastic about what he was doing. During our second year in Harar we were the only Ethi II’s. The first PC group had left and the 3’s arrived in September with the 4’s arriving a shortly thereafter.

Over our first summer when we had the opportunity for a three-week vacation, Burr decided to stay in the Harar area, moved out to Bisidimo [just east of Harar]  and worked with the Canadian and German brothers who ran the lepers facility. He had a great experience and was glad he hadn’t left the country. I admired his ability to take on such a challenge. He was a great friend and admirer of Ato Adam, our Director of the H.S. University Extension Program, who was also the Director of the Teacher Training School in Harar.

Over our spring/Easter break Maura Hurley (a PCV 3), Burr and I traveled up to Lake Tana to see the Tissisat Falls. We spent a couple days enjoying the area and the relaxed atmosphere. He was easy to travel with and full of more information about the place than either of us could remember.

On another occasion I witnessed a flash flood with Burr while traveling by bus from Dira Dawa back to Harar. We had gone there one Saturday to buy a copy of TIME, and apparently a heavy rain had fallen in the Harar region. Fortunately, we were on a road above the deep dried river bed when the five or six-foot wall of water raced by — an amazing sight — camels leaping out of the way, rocks being tossed in the air.

Jim Paradis, Hedy Harris, Frieda [Kellems] Mitchem, Maura Hurley, Steve Moody, and his housemate, Thurman Ragar and the other “3’s” will remember him fondly.

Burr was good company, had a quick mind and a great sense of humor. He was quiet, inward, thoughtful, positive and completely honest. I remember long conversations with Burr and many of the above-mentioned friends over coffee, beer, watt, of course, and more beer. Burr took his work seriously and knew exactly what he wanted to do after Peace Corps and I think he did it. I was fortunate to have been one of his friends.

I stayed in Harar for another year and we corresponded occasionally — it was his way of staying in touch with PC and Harar. I missed him that third year — we had shared a wonderful time and place — and I am sorry to know he’s no longer with us