In Response to: ‘Ever the Teacher’ [6]

Published online Feb. 7, 2017

Like so many others, I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of President Bowen (On the Campus, Dec. 7). He was truly an extraordinary man, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for helping me to realize a dream that changed the course of my life in many ways.

When I was a sophomore in 1979 I heard about a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization called Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA), which sends groups of volunteers from North America to work on service projects in Africa. We had to pay our own way, and it was a considerable sum of money. I had two jobs on campus, but still was having trouble coming up with the funds in time for the early-summer departure. Then someone suggested I talk to President Bowen, who might be able to help.

So I made an appointment and met with “Bilbo” personally. He listened carefully to my hopes and my goals and my reasons for wanting to participate in OCA. (The project I hoped to join involved building a rudimentary medical clinic in rural Kenya where children could receive much-needed malaria vaccinations, among other things.) After some consideration, our president said that Princeton had a fund (created by a generous alumna, I believe) designed to meet the needs of students who find themselves in an emergency of some kind. 

Upon hearing that, I started to feel that it was unlikely I would be going on this adventure — not seeing my situation as an emergency. I was about to thank President Bowen for meeting with me when he looked at me and said, “The people in rural Kenya really need better access to medical care, don’t they?” Not quite sure where this was going, I nodded in agreement as he declared, “I believe this certainly is an emergency!” and offered me enough money to make the experience possible. What an incredible guy.

It goes without saying that a full summer living and working in rural Kenya, where many people had never seen a Caucasian person before, was an experience that enriched my life in ways I could not have imagined.

Thank you so much, William G. Bowen, may you rest in peace.