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News - Youth For Understanding USA

Latest news about Youth for Understanding USA student exchange programs worldwide – Events – Partnerships.

YFU Mourns Loss of Democracy Advocate, Activist and YFU Leader John Richardson Jr.

Jennifer McKendree


Former YFU President & CEO and wife remembered for long-time contribution to international education and diplomacy.

Washington, DC (January 6, 2015) -- It is with great sadness that YFU shares the news of the passing of John Richardson Jr., who served as President and CEO of YFU from 1978-86. John’s passing comes within a month of his beloved wife, Thelma, and YFU honors them both for their lifelong contributions to opening minds and hearts through their efforts to encourage intercultural understanding and recognition that we are all citizens of one world.

“The famous quotation of ‘we stand on the shoulders of giants’ seems particularly apt as we mourn the loss of John and Thelma Richardson,” said Michael E. Hill, YFU’s current President & Chief Executive Officer. “John came to YFU at a pivotal time in our history, restoring credibility at home and abroad in an organization that was then adrift. His diplomacy, grace and leadership cemented YFU’s future for decades to come. He and Thelma gave eight important years of leadership and sacrifice to YFU, its students, staff and volunteers. On behalf of the 250,000 alumni and countless more volunteers, we honor John and Thelma and send our deepest sympathies to their loved ones.”

Obituary – John and Thelma Richardson

Democracy Advocate, and Activist, Pass.

John and Thelma "Bonnie" Richardson died on December 26 and November 29 respectively, in Bethesda, Maryland.

John Richardson was born February 4, 1921, in Milton, Massachusetts to John and Hope (Hemenway) Richardson. He had four sisters, Hope, Hetty, Louisa and Faith, attended Noble and Greenough School, Harvard University and Harvard Law School.

Thelma Eulalia Ingram Richardson was born August 10, 1925 to Dr. Ben and Thelma (Reynolds) Ingram in Louisiana. She earned a BA from Coker College, an MA from George Washington, and is survived by her sister, Dr. Clara Gandy.

John and Thelma married in 1945 (see photo). John distinguished himself as an officer and paratrooper during WWII. A Wall Street lawyer (Sullivan and Cromwell) and investment banker (Paine Webber), Richardson changed direction in 1956 through personally organizing airlifts of medical supplies during the Hungarian Revolution.

John Richardson was CEO of Radio Free Europe (1961-68), Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs (1969-77) (see photo), and CEO of of Youth for Understanding (1978 – 86). He was a founding staff member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, founding board member and chair of the National Endowment of Democracy, president of the International Rescue Committee, on the boards of the American Forum for Global Education, the Council on Foreign Relations, University of Denver Foundation, River Road Unitarian Church. He was decorated by the Governments of Germany and Japan for his international youth exchange work and in 1988 by Poland for his ‘contribution to the struggle for freedom and democracy during the Cold War period’.

"Bonnie" Richardson’s involvement in the 1965 Bronxville (NY) Hospital strike, in support of worker unionization (1099), earned the Richardsons the appreciation of Dr. Martin Luther King.

They leave daughters Eva Selek-Teleki, Teren de Cossy, Lee Taylor, Hope Gravelly, Catherine Munch and Hetty Richardson, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Cane Creek, Hillsborough, North Carolina in the spring of 2015. Details will be available from Mr. T Dixon, Walkers Funeral Home, (919-732-2121).