Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Joe Duffey, Mentor & Friend, R I P

 When I learned that Joe Duffey had died, of course I wanted to know the details. Was there going to be a funeral or a memorial service. He didn’t want any of the death hoopla. Just savior the obits and the memories. 

It’s hard to write about someone you loved without the essay becoming about the writer. Which would be me on this occasion.  Joe Duffey was my colleague, my mentor, and mostly my friend for over 40 years.  After the Carter’s moved into the White House and the entire staff was looking for jobs, we discovered that there was a book which listed all the jobs available for political appointees called the Plum Book.  Jane Watkins, a dear friend with whom I lived in DC made it her business to find the perfect job for me.  And she did. It was at the State Department,  in the Bureau of Cultural Affairs.  The Director of the Bureau (I’m using State Department language) was a guy named Joe Duffey who was an original Carter supporter.  It was a great job and he had to fill a number of “slots” ( that means jobs) for political people.  It’s not important how I got to Duffey, but thanks to friends like Jane it was impossible for him to ignore the requests to interview me.  

The conversation was brief. He asked if I knew anything about the State department, the Foreign Service and Cultural Affairs.  “Sure” I said.  Which was a lie, because I knew nothing about any of those things. In fact, when he hired me I thought the Foreign Service was the American version of the Foreign Legion.  But Joe hated to say no to anyone.  And more importantly, the Bureau was going to become its own Agency and he was transitional until he took a job as the head of the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Eventually,  USIA was moved out of the State Department and became a stand alone agency. 

USIA was a wonderful place to work and even without Joe, it was good. But we stayed friends and I was already friends with his wife, Anne so it was easy. Joe stayed at the NEA until the Carter Administration was replaced by the Reagan people.  I stayed in DC but reinvented myself as the professor I loved to be at American University.  Not to long after I arrived, Joe took over as the President in charge of everything.  It was a joy to be working with him again. He was a terrific educator with a vision for what was needed at the University.  He was always  a visionary. When the Clinton people raised their heads and became the people in charge. The personnel system was a mess so Ickes and Eli asked me to help out.  The first step was to get rid of the Bush people. In order to do that, a few of us who had been in government before took over a few agencies. I got USIA, and The Endowment for the arts. I hired all the political appointments and waited for a director.  The Director was Joe Duffey.  It was a few months before he was confirmed, along with Penn Kemble as Deputy Director. Two Visionaries with diametrically opposed politics.  Joe asked me to stay because they needed someone to implement their visions— a technician of sorts. Penn was also relieved that he could remain a visionary and they could remain somewhat idea people.  

There were, of course, rules.  They were not allowed to hire people without checking with me because I knew the number of people we could hire.  There was a sign on my door that said "...after Penn or Dr D, says you can work at USIA, check with me."    Perhaps my favorite Joey D expression was, “I don't have to go everywhere that I have never been”. Joe thought the Foreign Service officers were always trying to get rid of him by scheduling him for foreign travel.  He came to all the senior political appointee meetings and he had no problem wearing the deally boppers we provided, as reminders of our travel.  He adored little Joe and was so proud of his dancing ability.  He loved his children and Anne’s children and they were always at the top of his list if they needed something.  My favorite memories were the games we played.  I would sing a Raffi song and he would wind up singing it for the whole day.

After we left USIA, and USIA foolishly became part of the State Department, Joe worked for a private higher-education company, once again providing the vision and respect all his former jobs had prepared him for.  

We met for lunch on occasion over the years. Always something I cherished and enjoyed.  There is no question that Joe has visions for wherever he has gone, and hopefully I will work for him again on the other side. Love you