Harris Wofford: American politician (1926-) | Biography
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Harris Wofford
American politician

Harris Wofford

Harris Wofford
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American politician
A.K.A. Harris Llewellyn Wofford, Jr.
Is Politician Lawyer
From United States of America
Field Law Politics
Gender male
Birth 9 April 1926, New York City
Age 97 years
The details (from wikipedia)


Harris Llewellyn Wofford, Jr. (born April 9, 1926) is an American attorney and Democratic Party politician who represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate from 1991 to 1995. A noted advocate of national service and volunteering, Wofford was also the fifth president of Bryn Mawr College from 1970 to 1978, served as Chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in 1986, as Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry in the cabinet of Governor Robert P. Casey from 1987 to 1991 and was a surrogate for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. He introduced Obama in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center before Obama's speech on race in America, A More Perfect Union.

Early life

Wofford was born in 1926 in New York City, the son of Estelle Allison (Gardner) and Harris Llewellyn Wofford. He was born to a wealthy and prominent Southern family. At age 11 he accompanied his widowed grandmother on a six-month world tour. They spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, visited Shanghai shortly after the Imperial Japanese Army captured it, spent time in India where Wofford became "fascinated" by Mahatma Gandhi and visited Rome, where they saw Benito Mussolini announce Italy's withdrawal from the League of Nations and a subsequent fascist parade. While attending Scarsdale High School, he was inspired by Clarence Streit's plea for a world government to found the Student Federalists. By the time he was 18, the organisation had grown so large that Newsweek predicted he would become President.

He served in the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War and is a 1948 graduate of the University of Chicago. After eight months on a fellowship in India, conducting a study of the recently assassinated Gandhi, he and his wife Clare returned to America. He subsequently enrolled at Howard Law School, the first white male student to do so. After two years, he concluded the final year of his studies at Yale Law School, where he received his second law degree in June 1954. He began his public service career as a legal assistant for Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh on the United States Commission on Civil Rights, serving from 1957 to 1959. In 1959, he became a law professor at University of Notre Dame. He was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the South in the 1950s, accompanying Indian activist Ram Manohar Lohia on a tour of the South in 1951 and becoming a friend and unofficial advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wofford was raised an Episcopalian, and converted to Catholicism in the 1980s.

Kennedy administration

Wofford first met John F. Kennedy in 1947 at a party at Clare Boothe Luce's Connecticut home. Wofford's political career began in 1960 when Kennedy asked him to join his presidential campaign and work with Sargent Shriver on winning over the "Negro vote". When King was imprisoned shortly before the election, Wofford and Shriver persuaded Kennedy to call King's wife, Coretta Scott King, who faced the specter of her husband sentenced to hard labor in a Georgia prison for a minor traffic violation while she was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. This prompted Martin Luther King, Sr. to switch his endorsement from Richard Nixon to Kennedy and was done without the knowledge of Ted Sorensen, Ted Kennedy and Kenneth O'Donnell. All of them would have opposed this move in fear of criticism from Southern political leaders such as arch-segregationist Senator James Eastland of Mississippi. That Kennedy had called King's wife was subsequently leaked and may have shifted the African American vote in Kennedy's favor nationally, to which many attribute his slim victory over Nixon.

In 1961, Kennedy appointed him as a Special Assistant to the President for Civil Rights. In the White House, he served as chairman of the Subcabinet Group on Civil Rights. Wofford was instrumental in the formation of the Peace Corps and served as the Peace Corps' special representative to Africa and director of operations in Ethiopia. He was appointed associate director of the Peace Corps in 1964 and held that position until 1966. He also participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. Wofford's book Of Kennedys and Kings: Making Sense of the Sixties details his years in the civil rights movement and the creation of the Peace Corps.

Academic career and private practice

In 1966, Wofford left politics to become President of the State University of New York at Old Westbury. At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Wofford risked his career by allowing himself to be arrested in protest of police brutality. In 1970, he became president of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, holding that post until 1978.

In 1978, Wofford joined the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

Political career

In Pennsylvania

After spending seven years in private law practice in Philadelphia, Wofford served as the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party from June to December 1986. In March 1987, he was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey as the state's Secretary of Labor and Industry.

1991 U.S. Senate special election victory

On April 4, 1991, Pennsylvania's senior U.S. Senator, H. John Heinz III, died in an aviation accident, leaving his seat in the U.S. Senate open. By law, the Pennsylvania governor was required to appoint a replacement until a special election could be held for the seat. After considering several potential candidates, including Allentown, Pennsylvania native Lee Iacocca, who turned down the job, Governor Casey appointed Wofford to the seat on May 8, 1991. He had previously considered running for office, but never thought the opportunity was quite right.

In the special election, held in November 1991, Wofford faced Dick Thornburgh, the former Pennsylvania Governor and U.S. Attorney General under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Candidates for this special election were chosen by the party committees because the vacancy had happened too late to set up a primary. Wofford began the campaign so far behind in the polls that most pundits assumed he had no chance of winning. His eventual victory over the former governor by ten percentage points surprised many.

His campaign was run by Paul Begala and James Carville, and their dramatic success brought them to national attention. The campaign was also a proving ground for many of the themes that would underlie Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential election victory, such as the focus on the economy and health care. Although Clinton ultimately chose Al Gore, Wofford was a finalist for the vice presidential nomination.

1994 U.S. Senate defeat

Wofford narrowly lost his 1994 bid for re-election to Republican Congressman Rick Santorum, 32 years his junior, who defeated Wofford 49%–47%. The election was part of that year's Republican Revolution, in which many Democrats were ousted from both houses of the United States Congress.

Subsequent career

From 1995 to 2001, Wofford served as chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that runs AmeriCorps and other domestic volunteer programs. Since leaving that position, he has taught at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In 2005, he met Barack Obama. The two became friends and when Obama made his speech on race in America, A More Perfect Union, Wofford introduced him.

On January 4, 2007, Wofford was present for the swearing-in of Senator Bob Casey, Jr., who defeated Santorum in his bid for a third term, and on January 3, 2013, Wofford again accompanied Casey to his swearing-in for a second term on the floor of the Senate.

Since 2001, Wofford has served on the boards of several charities and service organizations, including America's Promise, Youth Service America and the Points of Light Foundation. He was a trustee to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. Between 2007 and 2009, Wofford was the national spokesperson for Experience Wave, a national campaign that sought to advance state and federal policies to make it easier for mid-life and older adults to stay engaged in work and community life.

Wofford is currently a board member of Malaria No More, a New York-based nonprofit that was launched at the 2006 White House Summit with the goal of ending all deaths caused by malaria. He serves on the Board of Selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service. He served as a senior fellow at the Case Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Personal life

In 1948, Wofford married Clare Lindgren and they later had three children. She died in 1996. In 2016, Wofford announced that he would marry Matthew Charlton, his companion of many years.


  • In 2002, Wofford was the recipient of the John W. Gardner Leadership Award.
  • In 2011, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the National Peace Corps Association created the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. It is given annually to an outstanding global leader who grew up and lives in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers served and whose life was influenced by the Peace Corps. The leader should be a person whose life’s work has made a significant contribution to the world in a way that reflects the core Peace Corps values of service, peace, development, human rights, health, and understanding.
  • In 2012, Wofford received the Presidential Citizens Medal.
  • In 2015, Wofford was an honored speaker at the Memorial Tribute to Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. 1917 – 2015, President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, Congregation of Holy Cross and former chairperson of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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