My old friend and former President of the World Bank, Jim Wolfensohn died yesterday, three months after his wife Elaine–an even closer friend–died in August. I learned of Elaine’s death a few minutes before Joe Biden accepted the nomination for president in a speech at the Democratic Convention. In his speech, he offered decency, gravity, passion, steel and a possible future. “Here and now, I give you my word,” Biden said. “If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not of the darkness.” He added: “United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America. We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege.”
These are all principles exemplified by the Wolfensohns.
During my thirty-year career at the World Bank, I experienced the coming and going of five presidents. The years Jim Wolfensohn was there were the most challenging, exciting and happiest of my working life. Thanks to Jim and his wife Elaine, whose good advice made him an unequivocal proponent of women-in-development I was able to accomplish things I’d never have imagined possible when I joined the Bank in 1974, as a young woman, French literature major, trying to find her way in the world’s most powerful financial institution.
Last April–still in the throes of writing my 300-page memoir Expecting the World about my years at the World Bank– I spent the afternoon with the Wolfensohns in New York. I told them about the memoir and thanked them for inspiring such confidence in my work with women in development. As we finished our dessert, Jim said: “I want to read that book of yours. You’d better write fast, I won’t be around forever.”
Sadly, today as I complete the book’s last chapter, Jim and Elaine Wolfensohn are both gone. I’m so glad I was able to see them in New York and thank them for their friendship and support they gave me for so many years.
I just wish I’d been able to write faster.