From the Director
In Memoriam: Albert J. Weatherhead III, 1925–2011
On September 20, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs lost one of its greatest benefactors and friends: Albert J. Weatherhead III. As many of us know, Al came to the support of the Center at a particularly difficult financial time, giving international research a much needed boost through his extraordinary generosity. In April 1998, through the Weatherhead Foundation and with the strong support of his wife, Celia, the Foundation's vice president, he endowed the Center and put international relations research on a firm financial footing at Harvard. Beyond the founding gift, Al and Celia made additional significant endowment grants through the Weatherhead Foundation to the Weatherhead Center in May 2003 and February 2004.
Al's generosity to our research center was all the more remarkable because he himself was never especially interested in international affairs for his businesses. The head of a family that donated millions over his lifetime to universities nationwide—including not only Harvard but also Columbia, Tulane, the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, and, most especially, Case Western Reserve University in his native Ohio—Al Weatherhead got his start after taking over his father's automobile-parts manufacturing business. He later founded Weatherchem, a plastics company that makes products for dispensing and storing food and medicines. Neither of these businesses have had a particularly strong international orientation. Ironically, the fund he endowed for research in international affairs is guided by his personal instructions to invest only in the stocks of domestic US companies.
Al was interested in supporting people with cutting-edge ideas who would have an impact on the world. He found that opportunity in the then-Center for International Affairs here at Harvard. Not himself a scholar, Al Weatherhead was especially attracted to the Fellows Program, which brings distinguished practitioners from the world of government, business, the military, media, and non-profit work to the Center for a year of academic immersion. He was also a big fan of the Graduate Student Associates program, which he saw as an incubator for ideas that would shape the future. One of the boldest moves he made as a donor to the WCFIA was to endow the Weatherhead Initiative, designed to fund game-changing research in international affairs. The Initiative has funded projects stretching from globalization's influence on public opinion, to religion in international politics, to development in Africa, and to pollution detection and abatement programs in China. Beginning this year, Weatherhead Initiative funds are supporting a three-year Research Cluster on Global History and a wide range of related seminars, conferences, and new undergraduate courses.
I did not have the good fortune to know Al Weatherhead well. I met with him only twice during my tenure as director, during meetings of the WCFIA Advisory Committee in which he occasionally participated. One of the great things about Al was that his generosity to the Center was not matched by officiousness. Al was interested in what the Center does, but he never tried to grab the wheel or steer the Center in his preferred direction. He was a supporter, not an interloper. I have fond memories of the two dinners we had together during the Advisory Committee's visits. As I recall, our discussions were not about research or even international matters. Nor did we speak in any detail about how the Center was spending his money (which is all available of course in our annual report). We chatted instead of Al's undergraduate years at Harvard—and his penchant on occasion for pushing the envelope of decorous collegiate behavior. Al relished telling stories about his mischievous behavior as an undergraduate, whether jumping into the Charles River or being detained by police for some minor transgression and being “rescued” by Harvard along the way.
Jorge Domínguez, who directed the Center when Al decided to endow the CFIA, knew that Al wanted more than anything to support his alma mater, which he saw as a force for transforming the world. “All he had needed were reassurances that we were still the Harvard that he knew, admired, and loved,” Jorge recently told me. “Al fell in love with Harvard probably before he arrived in the College as a freshman. He remained a loyal alumnus ever since.”
Loyal, indeed. Over the years, he funded four professorships at Harvard, one of which was a university professorship held by Samuel P. Huntington. Al saw these as good ways to advance the mission of the university, as well as to honor his father and his brother who also cherished Harvard.
Al Weatherhead remained actively engaged as a philanthropist until the last few weeks of his life. From medical research to international affairs, what united all of his endeavors was a commitment to the big picture. In conversations with Harvard, he apparently never wanted to discuss programs smaller than, say, $500,000. His generosity was matched by his belief, as Jorge Domínguez put it, “that the world was improvable, and that bright, hard-working individuals were the right vehicle to advance this vision.” We Weatherhead Center scholars, staff, and innumerable annual visitors are directly indebted to Al Weatherhead, the man—and to his vision.
Beth A. Simmons