Never a dull moment:
Marianne Leach 64C and Jerry Leach 64C
BY PAIGE P. PARVIN 96G
When Marianne Leach 64C and Jerry Leach 64C graduated from Emory in May 1964, they didn't waste any time trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Within a few days of finishing college, the couple got married, took a two-day honeymoon in Chicago, and then joined the Peace Corps.
“That was one incredible week,” said Jerry, over lunch with Marianne at a hotel near their Washington, D.C., offices.
The pair was among the Peace Corps' earliest volunteers, and the first from their home state of Alabama. They were sent to Turkey, where they helped teach English instructors at a high school and trained the next group of Peace Corps volunteers. The Leaches say they were drawn to Turkey because of Emory history professor Joseph Matthews, who had taught for a year in Istanbul and returned with glowing accounts of the place. To this day, Turkey is the Leaches' favorite country—and considering Jerry has visited 102 countries, that's saying something.
That week in 1964 set the tone for an adventurous life of global travel and humanitarian work for Jerry and Marianne, who were together awarded the Emory Medal in 1993. Shared experiences at Emory and in the Peace Corps launched careers in international relations for the Leaches, who have been working within the U.S. system to promote global justice for more than forty years—Marianne with CARE and Jerry with the State Department and now the World Affairs Councils of America. They estimate they've spent about a quarter of their lives living overseas. Their older daughter was born in Britain and their younger daughter in Papua, New Guinea; the oldest joined the Peace Corps in Thailand in 1988. They have lived in a banana-leaf hut in the Trobriand Islands, and Jerry has played cricket in the Rose Garden of Buckingham Palace with Prince Charles (“and he darn near lost my ball,” he says).
“Turkey was the beginning,” Jerry said. “When you grow up in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1950s, you have no real worldview. I think the Peace Corps really started it and we've never looked back.”
In Papua, New Guinea, in the 1970s, Jerry helped open the country's first university while Marianne trained civil servants in English and in office administration. “It was a very unique period,” says Jerry, “because we were there preparing them for independence. We were helping to create the very first educated generation in New Guinea. So students we both had were the ones that became ministers, ambassadors, heads of country. At the ages of twenty-two and twenty-five they were all in top jobs. Four New Guinea prime ministers were in my classes.”
It was also in New Guinea that Jerry helped make a documentary about cricket that landed him in the Rose Garden with Prince Charles.
Jerry served in the State Department during the 1980s, working on East-West trade relations and then as director of international economic affairs at the National Security Council. Part of that job was to craft a message from then-President George Bush on certain commemorative days. In 1989, on the morning of World Environment Day, Jerry was a man desperately in search of a message; none of his ideas had been well-received and the clock was ticking. When the head of the Environmental Protection Agency suggested a ban on elephant ivory, Jerry jumped on it. By 5:30 that evening, the president was announcing a U.S. ban on the trade of elephant ivory and urging other nations to do the same; by 6 p.m. the announcement was the lead national news story. That's how Leach became the architect of a U.S. ban on elephant ivory that ultimately led to a reduction in poaching and a resurgence in elephant populations.
“The day we did that, the price of ivory was $105 a pound,” Leach said. “Three months later, it was $1. It was a great case study of everybody doing the right thing—with no master plan. That's often the way to get things done.”
Jerry also worked for the Peace Corps in the 1990s before becoming president of the World Affairs Councils of America (WACA), the largest international affairs non-profit in the U.S. The WACA works with its eighty-six member councils around the country to combat the notorious American apathy toward international affairs by engaging citizens through some 2,500 wide-ranging programs each year.
Marianne has worked for the global humanitarian organization CARE since 1981 and is currently director of public policy. In 1993, she led an effort against U.S. Representative Newt Gingrich to save Food for Peace, a forty-year-old food assistance program that had been highly successful in impoverished areas around the world. After eighteen months of fighting, Marianne and her coalition succeeded in getting Food for Peace re-authorized and even got the program a budget increase.
“In this world, there's never a dull moment,” Marianne says. “I never come into the office when there isn't something happening. Somehow you just keep thinking you can make a difference.”
After more than forty years in international affairs work, the Leaches know how to ride the trends of U.S. foreign policy. But since 9/11, America's eroding global image and intense partisanship in Washington have made their jobs tougher than ever before.
“CARE is much more concerned with others having a voice and helping them take care of themselves, but [the United States government's] arrogance since 9/11 has damaged us,” Marianne says.
Still, the couple, who ride in to the city together each morning from their home in Reston, Virginia, have no intention of shifting gears or even slowing down. They hinted at going to Turkey again someday.
“I'm looking forward to doing different jobs,” Jerry says. “We have jobs where we can see the impact of what we do, which is wonderful.”
And Marianne adds, without a trace of irony: “Maybe we'll do the Peace Corps again.”