Grantees: “Up Front and in the Center”
By Charles Bailey
Frank Thomas and I met for the first time on the tarmac at the Khartoum airport. He had just flown in from Cairo; it was early afternoon and the weather was, as it nearly always was, dry, bright and hot: 120 degrees in the shade. Frank and Kate, his wife, together with another Foundation trustee and several Ford staff, were stopping off in Sudan enroute to the August 1982 Trustees Meeting in Nairobi.
I had arrived just six weeks earlier to join three Sudanese staff in an office overseeing grants for refugee programs, legal aid, customary law and maternal and child health run by Ann Lesch and Cynthia Myntti, program officers in Cairo. To these, John Gerhart, the Representative, charged me to add a new initiative in Land and Water Management under the banner of the Rural Poverty and Resources (RPR) Program.
When he became president, Frank Thomas reorganized the way program staff framed and therefore thought about their grant making. He underscored the notion that staff should live and work as close as possible to those who were tackling significant challenges with Ford money. He pioneered the idea of One Foundation, where staff working on similar issues in different societies around the world could easily connect with and consult each other.
Frank believed that grantees should be up front and in the center, captured in Ford’s characterization of itself as a “resource for innovative individuals and institutions worldwide”. And he modelled being ready with just the right words, clear, concise and low key, when the opportunity arose to speak to people in high positions of authority.
For Frank, Sudan was a test of these propositions and he wanted to see everything. We drove 120 miles south to Wad Medani, the headquarters of the Gezira Scheme, which irrigated an area half the size of Connecticut. Sudanese grantees there were examining more equitable distribution of irrigation water, as Ford grantees were already doing in India and the Philippines.
Back in Khartoum, we invited all Ford grantees, including Hasan Al-Turabi, Sudan’s attorney general, to a reception on the terrace of a hotel overlooking the Blue Nile. I have an indelible image of Frank, impeccable in a white shirt, and the AG, impeccable in a flowing white Jelabiya and turban, standing eye to eye, speaking lawyer to lawyer. Frank is talking in a clear, concise and low key way about human rights.
Fourteen years later, staff and trustees are in Cape Town for a Trustees Meeting, Frank’s last as president. He went around the large table speaking quietly to each person. When he got to me I said, “Frank, I never felt any limitations at Ford except my own. Thank you for that.” “Charles,” he said and, smiling, briefly bowed his head.
But perhaps my best memory of Frank was the first meeting of RPR staff worldwide, in Cairo in 1984. After dinner on a boat on the Nile we danced. Frank was by far the best dancer of all, supple and perfectly matched to the beat. We stopped and someone said, “Wow, what a dancer!” Frank replied, eyes twinkling, “Well, you learn things hanging out on street corners.”
Charles Bailey, now an advisor on the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, worked at the Foundation from 1972 to 1976 and again from 1982 to 2011 in several overseas offices and at Ford’s headquarters in New York City.
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He Left the World a Better Place by Susan Berresford
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Celebrating the Remarkable Legacy of Franklin Thomas by Darren Walker
“A True Humanitarian” by Shepard Forman
From the Class of ’92: “We worked for Frank” by Radhika Balakrishnan, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos, Natalia Kanem, Anthony Romero and Marcia Smith
Grantees: “Up Front and in the Center” by Charles Bailey
Taking Risks “Is What We Do” by Steven W. Lawry
A Leader With “Vision and Courage” by Barry D. Gaberman
Forging “New Paths on Multiple Fronts” by Judy Barsalou
“The Tallest Tree in Our Forest” by Akwasi Aidoo