Donald and Charlotte MacJannet mentored the four students of the first MacJannet Fletcher Fellows program with warmth and kindness during their year in Geneva in 1967. Below are their reflections.
‘Don’t forget to breathe’
by Augustus Nasmith Jr.
From age 14, I was determined to pursue a career in international service. So I was encouraged when Donald and Charlotte MacJannet visited Fletcher just before we original Fellows set out for Geneva in mid-1967. They were gracious enthusiasts to open new worlds for us. Mr. Mac’s understanding and exuberance and Mrs. Mac’s insightful probing and lessons were synergistically complementary.
But my chosen career path took a detour during my year in Geneva, when I realized that I was gay. Because homosexuals were then excluded from U.S. government service, I abandoned my dream of joining the U.S. Foreign Service. Instead I spent a time as assistant director of the World Youth Forum in New York, where I included the Macs in our European programs. When I expressed my interest in non-governmental international service, they arranged a meeting with their friend Leonard Carmichael, the distinguished former Tufts president and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Although I had avoided science and mathematics as much as possible throughout my education, Dr. Carmichael referred me to Harrison Brown, foreign secretary of the National Academy of Science, a prestigious private organization chartered by the U.S. Congress to advise the government. There I worked with non-governmental organizations and scientists in developing countries. During some of the darkest days of the Cold War, I became the Academy’s liaison in the East-West non-governmental institutional bridge with the Soviet Union and others through the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. And in1988-1989 I served a one-year stint as special advisor to the president of the UN General Assembly, the Argentine foreign minister Dante Caputo, who had been my roommate at Fletcher.
What mattered to the MacJannets, you might say, was not my sexual identity but my ability to make the world a better place. “Don’t forget to breathe!” Mrs. Mac admonished me early in our friendship. I didn’t appreciate her advice until years later, when I was diagnosed with HIV. Suddenly the Macs’ philosophy of “Mind, body and spirit” became more than just a slogan. Now I embarked on a new career as a global advocate for AIDS education, health care funding, and human rights for sexual and gender minorities, work that took me to 60 countries on six continents.
I last visited Mrs. Mac in 1998, a year before she died, when I attended the 1998 International AIDS Conference in Geneva. She was as supportive of my AIDS work as she had been in my earlier causes. Today, 50 years after the launch of the Fletcher-HEI exchanges, I find myself reflecting on the darkness that seemed to pervade the world both then and now. The MacJannets, who lived through both World Wars, personified Howard Zinn’s example: “To live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” What was it Mrs. Mac said to me? “Don’t forget to breathe.” I hear her voice as if it were yesterday, and inevitably I smile at the memory.
Augustus “Gus” Nasmith Jr. now lives in Rutland, Vermont
By Wenke Thomas Sterns
1967-1968 were pivotal years, for us and the world.The Vietnam war was getting into swing and there were riots, albeit small, even in Geneva. Flower power, woman power, sexual liberation… it was all there.
Mr. and Mrs. Mac kicked off the Fletcher scholarship exchange with Geneva’s Hautes Etudes Internationale (HEI) in a grand manner by sending four very deserving students. And I came along by default as I was then married to Rick Thoman, who was first or second in his Fletcher class. In Geneva Rick and I got a small student apartment on Rue Miramont, and the first thing we did was buy an old used Mercedes so we could take road trips, which we did regularly. Mr. and Mrs. Mac could not have been nicer to us, inviting us to their magnificent apartment in the vieille ville: grand piano, French furniture, super polished floors, views… for fairly naïve Easterners, we were blown away.
The Macs also made a special effort to introduce us to the “real” French-speaking Genevoise, who included the head of the Red Cross and other aristocratic folks. And Mrs. Mac made sure to let us know how privileged we were to do so: Whereas the Genevoise rarely mixed with all those foreigners in their midst, we saw them regularly. We subsequently kept up quite a correspondence with the Macs, and not long after we settled in New York, Rick was asked to become involved with the MacJannet Foundation, which he did for a spell. I was still tagging along. We made regular pilgrimages to Geneva and Talloires over the years and learned to love the Macs in the process. They were truly inspirational from the get-go. Even when we met them in Medford, they attended the Fletcher graduation— they had already developed a following there. And it all started that very first year in Geneva.
Did the year in Geneva change my life? Yes, it did. It made me prouder of my European origins. It enhanced my world outlook. It made me appreciate America and all that America brings to the world. And I will be forever grateful to the Macs for making it possible. Above all, the Macs and that Fletcher Exchange year instilled upon me the transformational power of study abroad for young students: Once experienced, it never leaves you.
Wenke Thoman Sterns, a longtime trustee of the MacJannet Foundation, lives in New York. Following his year as a MacJannet Fletcher Fellow, G. Richard “Rick” Thoman was instrumental in revitalizing three major American corporations: American Express, Nabisco International (which he served as chief executive), and IBM. He served briefly as CEO of Xerox Corp. while also serving as U.S. head of the Transatlantic Dialogue to standardize corporate regulations among European corporate CEOs, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the European Commission.
They reinforced my confidence
By Anthony Kleitz
Upon entering Fletcher in 1966, I didn’t realize that the MacJannet exchange program wasn’t yet operational, but I knew it was the sort of more intensive international experience that I hoped to gain through Fletcher. My belief was confirmed when I met Donald and Charlotte MacJannet, who attended the Fletcher graduation in 1967 and provided a very upbeat preview to the four of us Fletcherites who had been selected to participate in the exchange program’s first year. Three of us followed this meeting by studying French together over that summer at the University of Montpellier. In our zeal, we didn’t realize that many aspects of the exchange program hadn’t yet been worked out—in particular, academic requirements and objectives. Nor were we aware how different life at the Institute in Geneva would be from Fletcher in Medford.
Living accommodations in Geneva were hard to find and expensive, and the political context that year was explosive, with students in the U.S. and Europe revolting against America’s war in Vietnam. I was fortunate to spend that year as a pensionnaire with a Swiss family who spoke no English, which was a blessing in disguise: Since I took all my meals with them, I had to learn French. They were warm and friendly and accepted me as one of the family.
But the really special thing about that year in Geneva was the MacJannets’ mentorship. We exchange students were invited to meals (such as Thanksgiving and the celebration of l’Escalade) at their apartment in the vieille ville. Mr. Mac also took us occasionally on spine-tingling outings (he was not the world’s most attentive driver) into the Jura and to their remarkable 11th-Century country mansion, Le Prieuré in Talloires (which the Macs donated 11 years later to Tufts for its European Center). Mrs. Mac liked to point out how different France was in those days from Switzerland: a little more relaxed and less disciplined, perhaps, but more liberated in spirit. For me, the cultural experience of living between these two countries was topped off by getting to know two professors who had a big influence on my future career: Olivier Long (later director general of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the predecessor to the World Trade Organization) and Gerard Curzon, professor of international economics.
After my year in Geneva with the exchange program, I quickly moved back to Geneva to carry out research for my Ph.D. dissertation, which concerned international trade policy. As luck had it, just as I was completing my dissertation I found a job at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. At first I engaged in research—an exciting task at a time when governments were redrawing the tenets of the post-war world to achieve more open, inclusive and prosperous societies. Eventually my work for the OECD blossomed into a very rewarding career working on all aspects of trade policy. The value of my contribution I will leave to others. But there’s no doubt in my mind that this career would not have happened without that MacJannet Fellowship, not to mention the MacJannets themselves. They confirmed and reinforced my confidence in the direction I chose to follow. And Mr. Mac provided a wonderful model for remaining very American and yet being very international at the same time.
Learning to ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’
By Pamela Jacklin
The MacJannet Fellowship for the Geneva Exchange made an incredible difference in my life. The MacJannets took an immense interest in us as individuals. I was frankly stunned that such intelligent, accomplished and cultured people (who were clearly in a different league from my middle-class family) cared so much about who the MacJannet Fellows were and what we thought, hoped and dreamed to become.
They taught me a great deal that year about politics, art, and music, but most importantly about the importance of caring adults in a young person’s development, about the need for all of us to be civically engaged—give your money, yes, but give your time and your heart as well. This lesson has been one of the most important of my life. Recognizing the gifts we have: being born in the right country at the right time, to parents who love you and value education, and having the good fortune to have mentors like Mr. and Mrs. Mac, who teach by example.
The chance to live abroad during my formative years was also a fantastic opportunity. To be joined in Geneva by a small group of incredible people like Gus, Tony, Rick, and Wenke made the experience more educational and more fun—not to mention producing some incredible lifelong friendships. The students at the Institute came from all over the world—it was more international in its student body than Fletcher was at that time. This too gave us new perspectives about our world and our country. Seeing the tumultuous events of that 1967-68 academic year—the Vietnam war, student uprisings, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy—through European eyes, I seriously considered becoming an ex-pat. Somehow James Baldwin’s essay, “On Being American Abroad,” came into my hands. Reading and considering his arguments convinced me to return home and work toward an America I could believe in. “Think globally, act locally” became my modus operandi before that formulation was popularized.
Pamela Jacklin is a retired partner of a major business law firm in Port- land, Oregon. She did extensive pro bono legal work on equalizing opportunities for girls and women, as well as volunteer work to improve educational outcomes for low-income children in the U.S. and Africa.