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ICFRC: When Iowa Led the World in Moral Humanitarian Leadership

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In reviewing Iowa's remarkable agricultural and humanitarian heritage, 1979 stands out as a time of exceptional global moral leadership. Republican Governor Robert D. Ray was at the forefront of related efforts: to rescue the Vietnamese "Boat People" refugees who were drowning while seeking to live in freedom as well as to rush desperately needed food and medicine to starving and dying Cambodian victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Both humanitarian life-saving efforts featured significant involvement by Iowans and Iowa institutions across the state, thus making them a clear example of "citizen diplomacy." That same year also saw the visit of Pope John Paul II to Living History Farms in Urbandale, which provided a powerful moral underpinning to refugee assistance programs. While on "loan" from the U.S. State Department to the Governor's staff in Des Moines, Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, then a young Foreign Service Officer, was directly involved in both historic endeavors, which drew Iowans together across sharp political differences just four years after the conclusion of the deeply polarizing Vietnam War

Dr. Kenneth Quinn served for 32 years as an American diplomat, including: as ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia; as a Rural Development advisor in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam; on the National Security Council staff at the White House; and as Director of Iowa SHARES, the humanitarian campaign formed by Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray that sent lifesaving aid to Cambodian genocide victims. Following his Foreign Service career, he served for 20 years as president of the World Food Prize Foundation located in Des Moines, retiring in January of 2020. Established by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug, under the Ambassador's leadership, the World Food Prize came to be referred to by global leaders as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture." During his tenure, individuals from 19 countries, including six Laureates from Africa, received the $250,000 annual award for their breakthrough achievements to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Amb. Quinn, was presented the State Department Award for Heroism and is a recipient of the Iowa Medal, that state's highest citizen honor. He served as Chair of the Iowa committee that raised the funds for, and selected the artist to create, the statue of Dr. Borlaug that stands in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. A graduate of Loras College in Dubuque, he holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Maryland.

For more information about the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, visit icfrc.org.

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