Director of the Peace Corps: Who Is Carrie Hessler-Radelet?
A third-generation Peace Corps volunteer who has been acting director since July has been nominated to be permanent director. Carrie Hessler-Radelet is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in Samoa from 1981 to 1983. Initially appointed deputy director on June 23, 2010, Hessler-Radelet also served as acting director from September 2012 to April 2013. She has more than two decades of experience in public health focused on HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health, and has lived and worked in more than 50 countries. Assuming she is confirmed by the Senate, Hessler-Radelet would succeed Aaron Williams, who served from August 2009 to August 2012.
Born circa 1957 in Frankfort, Michigan, Carolyn “Carrie” Hessler-Radelet earned a B.A. in political science at Boston University in 1979 and a Master’s degree in health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health in 1990.
After working a short time selling time-share condominiums, Hessler-Radelet got a call from her grandmother, who had served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia from 1972 to 1973. According to Hessler-Radelet, her grandmother “took me out to coffee and said, ‘What are you going to do with your one life?’ The implication was that selling time-share condominiums was not sufficient.” Motivated by this talk, Hessler-Radelet convinced her fiancé to join her, and two weeks after their wedding they were en route to Samoa, where Hessler-Radelet taught school from 1981 to 1983.
Although it took her grandmother’s motivational talk to get Hessler-Radelet to join the Peace Corps, her family’s multi-generational involvement with the Corps make her career seem almost inevitable. Her aunt, Ginny Kirkwood, served in Turkey from 1964 to 1966 and was the country director in Thailand from 1990 to 1993; her grandparents, Howard and Ruth Pearsall, joined the Peace Corps after retiring as university professors and served in Malaysia from 1972 to 1973; and her nephew, Jimmy, recently served as an HIV education volunteer in Mozambique from 2007 to 2009.
Living in a thatched hut with her host parents and their eight children, Hessler-Radelet accompanied her pregnant host mother to monthly appointments at a nearby clinic, later telling an interviewer it was a transformative experience. “Seeing what it’s like to be a woman in a [patriarchal] society, where you have virtually no ability to make decisions related to your home health care…really galvanized my interest in public health.”
After returning stateside, Hessler-Radelet served as a public affairs manager at the Peace Corps Regional Office in Boston from 1984 to 1986. From 1986 to 1988, she founded and served as executive director of Special Olympics in The Gambia, and served as a consultant with The Gambia Family Planning Association.
In 1989, she began a long relationship with John Snow, Inc., a global public-health consulting firm. From 1989 to 1991, she served as the acting director of Snow’s International Group, and as a technical advisor for Snow in Indonesia from 1991 to 1994, continuing her work there by serving as an HIV/AIDS advisor with the Health and Child Survival Fellows Program at the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1994 to 1995. Returning to Snow, she was director of its International Group from 1996 to 2000, and vice president and director of Snow’s Washington, D.C., office from 2000 to 2010, where she oversaw public-health programs in more than 85 countries.
Hessler-Radelet served on the advisory council of the National Peace Corps Association and was a member of its board of directors from 2000 to 2007. She has also served on the steering committee for the U.S. Coalition for Child Survival.
She and her husband, Steve Radelet, have two grown children, Meghan and Sam.
To Learn More:
Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Director (acting) (by Christopher Snow Hopkins, National Journal)
Nominee for Peace Corps Director Carries on a Family Tradition of Volunteer Service (by Christopher Snow Hopkins, National Journal)
President To Nominate Hessler-Radelet as Next Peace Corps Director (by Jonathan Pearson, Advocacy!)
A Time of Change and Innovation: WorldView sits down with Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet (by Erica Burman, Worldview)
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