June 06, 2012


Saturday, Lester and I attended the funeral for Blondeen and John Gravely. It was an especially sad time for Lester as he and Blondeen had begun working together when he was at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1960s. Fresh from graduating valedictorian of her high school, Blondeen moved to Washington and began doing clerical work for the USDA.When Lester was brought into Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman’s staff, he needed administrative support and Blondeen was transferred to him. They hit it off from the start. Her quick mind and cheerful, upbeat nature, along with her secretarial skills made her a perfect assistant for Lester. She had a flair for clothing, sewing all of her clothes, which often evoked admiration from others.

When Lester moved to head the International Development Agency, he brought Blondeen along to support the Deputy Administrator, Lyle Schertz. Lester and Blondeen were the youngest people in the Agency!

A year after helping James Grant found the Overseas Development Council (ODC) in 1969, Lester convinced Blondeen to join them.

Blondeen’s typing skills (non-correcting typewriters!!) were legendary. She typed so fast and accurately that people would gather around her desk just to watch her! And with the books Lester produced while at the ODC, her fingers were kept very busy. The two were a terrific team.

So it was natural for him to bring Blondeen along when he founded Worldwatch Institute in 1974. Along with Lester and Erik Eckholm, Blondeen was one of the Institute’s three incorporators. While Lester was finishing up his commitments at the Overseas Development Council, Blondeen did all of the administrative work to get the new Institute up and running. She was a central figure in both the creation and evolution of the Institute, initially as administrative officer and assistant treasurer and, later, as vice president for administration and treasurer.  That she simultaneously held two key offices in the Institute was itself a tribute to her capacities and to her contribution.

Blondeen loved to travel and in the early years of Worldwatch accompanied Lester on a few of his trips, especially to Ethiopia, where they took time to sightsee and hike in the mountains.

Although she took early retirement due to a disability in 1996, we kept in touch, regularly inviting her and her husband John to special events and celebrations. At our last lunch together, Blondeen and Lester talked about the two books he was working on, one of which is his autobiography. They laughed over many shared memories.

So it was a very sad day when we learned that John and Blondeen were in a horrific car accident. John died instantly and Blondeen followed shortly thereafter.

As Lester noted in his testimony for Blondeen on Saturday, she was an important part of his life for 32 years and will remain so.


Reah Janise Kauffman