One of the first Peace Corps Volunteers dies during the 60th Anniversary year of the Peace Corps
William Dennis Grubb of Washington, D.C. died on October 25, 2021, at the age of 80.
Mr. Grubb (Colombia 1961-63), born in Allentown, PA, and raised in Westport, CT, lived a life of service from the age of 19 when he was appointed as a volunteer in the Peace Corps to serve our country in the interest of world peace.
Committed to global change, Mr. Grubb became the first and one of the youngest men of his generation to join the Peace Corps, among the first to serve in this transformative agency. He helped to fulfill the three goals of the Peace Corps: provide technical assistance to a foreign nation, experience living in a different culture and language, and convey the experience to a domestic populace upon returning to the United States. Mr. Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps director, called him “One of the first and one of the best” Peace Corps volunteers.
His life of achievements, locally and in 23 countries he worked in, and in 60 countries he visited, is a testament to the Peace Corps’ legacy of promoting understanding, acceptance, success, and empowerment across geographic boundaries. Mr. Grubb has devoted his life to service to others through direct individual contact, in small isolated communities and by contributing to and leading programs that have had positive impacts on people, entrepreneurs, and nations throughout the world. He served on local and international boards and had professional and personal interests that straddled politics, economics, finance, education, performing arts, literature, history, sports, media, and world cultures, languages, cuisine, and religions.
The Peace Corps, American University, global development, and the church are the four passions that have propelled his local and international lifelong service to help others.
Known as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers, he was one of the youngest members of Colombia One, 1961-1963, a group of 62 Americans part of the first wave of 82 Peace Corps recruits to serve abroad. As a sophomore at Penn State University enrolled in the foreign service curricula, he heard “the call” as he put it, namely Senator John F. Kennedy’s speech at the University of Michigan on October 14, 1960, that challenged Americans to serve the U.S. and the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world. Mr. Grubb dropped out of Penn State University, and together with Colombia One group met President John F. Kennedy at the White House in 1961 before going overseas to serve as a volunteer of the Colombia Rural Community Development Program. He was one of the few Peace Corps volunteers to meet individually with President Kennedy during his visit to Colombia, December 1961. He lived under very difficult conditions in Zipacon, Cundinamarca, a village of 3,500 people with over 400 years of recorded history, situated 8,700 feet high in the Andes and 30 miles from Bogota, the capital of Colombia. The community was fighting illiteracy, malnutrition, dysentery, and tuberculosis had no water or sewers, few houses had electricity, roads were unpaved, or in many places lacking roads. Most had never used a telephone, watched TV, or had driven a car.
Equipped only with a 4-week training program (60 hours a week) at the Rutgers University on issues including Latin American history and culture, Spanish, how to ride a horse, preventive health measures, theoretical and practical aspects of community development, construction skills, animal husbandry, horticulture, sports indigenous to Latin America, completed before leaving to Colombia, and a 5-week special training for Peace Corps Volunteers at the Agricultural Experimental Station in Tibaitata, Colombia, on issues such as community development, Spanish, Colombian folklore, dance, customs, and traditions, Mr. Grubb interacted with all levels of Colombians, from the rural farmer to state officials, to national officials on the ministerial level, the poorest of the nation and the wealthiest industrialists to develop community projects in Zipacon during 1961-1963.
More specifically, Mr. Grubb, fellow Peace Corps volunteer Thomas Whalen of Michigan, and a Colombian counterpart formed a liaison between Zipacon and government officials to secure project assistance. One of the most successful was working with youth groups. They helped organize the communities of Zipacon in civic do-it-yourself operations to carry out over a dozen projects, showing them how to use equipment and carpentry tools that they had never had available. Accomplishments include the building of the first cooperative food store, a small medical center, three schools, roads, a pipeline for water supply, the renovation of the town cultural center. They even plastered the village with announcements of a free chest X-ray and vaccination program provided by the Government and screened a movie that emphasized the importance of protection against smallpox. A record turned out when the doctors arrived in Zipacon. Mr. Grubb spoke Spanish, rode a horse as he had no motor vehicle, adapted to a new culture to carry forth the program, which depended on successful human relationships. He left behind good feelings, introducing the community to sports such as basketball and volleyball, helping the sick when the need arose and building lifelong bonds. It wasn’t all perfect but it was a start. The biggest accomplishment was convincing the villagers that they could take control of their future by working side by side. Mr. Grubb said that his idealistic view of a peaceful and humane world was formulated there.
Zipacon and Mr. Grubb’s work in Colombia were covered in Life Magazine’s feature article “Up Front with the Peace Corps: Teams Get to Work in Colombia as Young Americans Busy Themselves Around the World”, January 1962, and the U.S. News & World Report, in 1961, 1962, and 1986. His photograph was used in a flyer displayed in USPS locations throughout the country to promote the Peace Corps service. His fellow volunteers opine that he is probably the most photographed person in Colombia One; maybe in all of the Peace Corps!
During his years of service in Colombia and later when working with the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C. directly and indirectly, Mr. Grubb was a trusted aide to Sargent Shriver and subsequent leaders of the organization. Upon returning from Colombia, Mr. Grubb was part of a team of Colombia One members to train volunteers for Latin America at the University of New Mexico and for volunteers for the Far East at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL. Several hundred volunteers were trained in these centers.
Over the decades, he supported the Peace Corps groups in the countries he worked in, served as treasurer and Board member of the National Peace Corps Association as the elected representative for volunteers who served in Latin America (2013-2016) and helped organize Friends of Colombia, a group of volunteers and staff who served in Colombia. He was a reliable attendee at local Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and affiliate group events that explained the Peace Corps to U.S. citizens.
Mr. Grubb has also been a relentless advocate on Capitol Hill for Peace Corps funding and legislative issues. In 1964, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey thanked Mr. Grubb in recognition that “due largely to your efforts that the appropriation for the Peace Corps was obtainable”. Since then, he led groups of newer advocates and helped develop the next generations of advocates for the Peace Corps.
Prior to enrolling in the Peace Corps, he worked for six years at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT, in various roles including assistant manager, assistant general manager, backstage work, and walk-on parts. He appeared in productions of “Caesar and Cleopatra”, on television’s “Omnibus” in the Civil War picture filmed in Westport in the 1950s, and on New York daytime television shows.
Always motivated by new challenges, Mr. Grubb moved on upon working for the Peace Corps to build the foundation of his financial career as a Banker for Latin America at Schroders, New York, and London, DLJ Equity and Debt Capital Markets at Credit Suisse, and as President of Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka. The advent of cable television led him to devote 10 years to directing the nationwide franchise at United Cable Television before forming Cable Satellite Investments, a consulting firm for the development of equity investments in cable television systems throughout the U.S. and abroad. This experience enabled him to devote the next several decades to international development in the practices of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, Ernst & Young, and PwC where he focused on projects for corporate and public sector clients such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United States Agency for International Development. Overall, Mr. Grubb built “an altogether exceptional and rare mix of skills and global experience” with “distinctive courtesy and persuasiveness” and accumulated over 30 years of international experience in banking, investment banking, securities, and debt markets as well as the ability to transition services and practices to distinct cultures. These skills enabled him to introduce reforms in major markets such as India, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Romania, Ukraine, and selected Latin American countries and conduct a wide range of projects in. countries including Barbados, Bosnia, China, Ethiopia, Iraq, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Mr. Grubb’s central role in the transformation of India’s capital market as PwC’s Chief of Party for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) “Financial Institutions and Expansion (“FIRE”) Project,” 1994-1998, is illustrative of his inspirational approach and achievements in international development. He coordinated all of FIRE’s operations; managed a staff of U.S. experts and local professionals; and represented FIRE in relationships with top officials of USAID, the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Ministry of Finance, the Stock Exchanges, Brokerage Houses, The Association of Mutual Funds in India, and the media. USAID’s November 2007 Report, “Deepening India’s Capital Market: The Way Forward,” provides a summary of the impact of the FIRE Project. It describes how, prior to the FIRE Project, India’s market provided “limited access to capital and financial services.” It was “plagued by uncertainty and distrust of the system and procedures (and) discouraged longer-term investors.” However, by 2007, the market had been transformed. It was modern and dynamic, featuring “a developed regulatory environment, a modern market infrastructure, a steadily increasing market capitalization, and liquidity, better allocation and mobilization of resources, a rapidly developing derivatives market, a robust mutual fund industry, and increased issuer transparency.
Mr. Grubb’s contribution to the transformation of India’s capital market institutions has helped to improve entrepreneurs’ means of raising capital; better develop economies, and provide investment opportunities to countless numbers of people worldwide.
Mr. Grubb’s work in some of the emerging countries, at times, put him in life-threatening situations. During his assignment in Sri Lanka, he survived a tsunami and an uprising during which a suicide car bomb exploded at the main entrance to the Bank of Colombo where he had an office, killing 51 people and injuring many more. The President of the bank, critically injured, turned to Mr. Grubb and asked him to serve as temporary President of the bank until a permanent replacement could be found.
Mr. Grubb’s professional career has also been infused with a deep sense of civic duty. During the 1970s and the 1990s, he worked for the Democratic National Committee, doing advance work for the Presidential campaigns of Senator Lyndon Johnson (D-TX), Senator George McGovern (D-SD), Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME), Governor Jimmy Carter (D-GA), and Governor Bill Clinton (D-AR). He was also involved in campaigns of Washington, D.C. politicians.
Education /American University
Education was one of Mr. Grubb’s lifelong passions. He mixed education academic pursuits with a passion for performing arts, media, and community service. He went to Staples High School in Westport, CT where he was on the yearbook staff ad was circulation editor of the yearbook, managing editor of “Inklings” school newspaper, and Staples Chairman of the Westport Youth Canteen.
Although he completed only two undergraduate years at Penn State University, he was on the sports staff of the Daily Collegian and a member of Alpha Sigma Phi-fraternity and Thespians where he appeared in theatrical productions such as “It’s in the Book”. He earned a BA from the Southern Illinois University School of Law in the field of government, economics, and philosophy while running the Peace Corps Training Center, 1964-1966, an MA from American University, School of International Service, Washington, D.C., 1966-1968 during which he studied in Tunisia on a Fulbright Fellowship, 1967, and worked towards a Post Graduate Diploma in the field of accounting, finance and capital markets from The London School of Economics and Political Science, 1971-2001.
Mr. Grubb remained engaged with American University throughout his life, in roles including Board member of the American University Alumni Association, 2008-2010, advising students, and auditing Spanish language and philosophy classes, among others, as part of the university’s lifelong learning programs. He also served as an Advisor to the Fulbright Association and on its Board during 2009-2013.
Mr. Grubb lived a devoted Christian life in thought, deed, humility, and caring for the less fortunate. In his Sermon, “Christ Is Revealed to Us!” June 1, 2014, a story of his personal faith shared with the congregation of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., he said,
“I have worked in 23 countries which included some of the world’s poorest nations. I experienced suffering and plain simple happiness firsthand. I have left many of these countries leaving behind most of my belongings as I felt the poor people needed my clothes and shoes more than I did.”
Mr. Grubb was powerfully influenced by two clergies, Father William Wendt, the founder of St. Francis Hospice, later renamed William Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, an innovative ministry to the dying, and Mother Theresa. Father Wendt became Mr. Grubb’s younger brother and his spiritual advisor when his brother was dying of pancreatic cancer. Through them, Mr. Grubb came to believe in the Holy Spirit and was later, in part, motivated to become involved in a ministry that organized the “Greeters” at the Washington National Cathedral where he ushered for many years.
During his time in India in the 1990s, he was a friend of Mother Theresa and supported the activities of The Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. Describing his meeting with Mother Theresa, Mr. Grubb said,
“I will never forget her serenity and simplicity. She invited me to pray with her in Calcutta, which I did. While praying with her, I learned not to anticipate HIS WORK and to try not to put anything of my own in all of this. I am His instrument, nothing more.”
In the last part of his life, he was also active in St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., SW, especially its Lay Eucharistic Ministry and the Bread for Life programs.
Following his brother’s death, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1981 and overcame his alcohol addiction. He was proud that as a recovering alcoholic, the last 40 years of his life were alcohol-free. He assisted members of his Peace Corps group who struggled with alcohol. They attributed their successful recovery to him. He also helped many friends locally and internationally pursue their own paths out of the same addiction.
Mr. Grubb’s passions included golfing, sailing, traveling, making friends around the world, and seeing how others lived. He often told his sister that traveling outside the United States makes you grateful, more appreciative, and proud of America. When Mr. Grubb was home in Washington, D.C, he took long walks all over town, visited museums, and voraciously read books about U.S. Presidents and the founding fathers.
Mr. Grubb is preceded in death by his father and mother, William Robert and Marion Grubb, and his younger brother Michael Bruce Grubb. He cared for his brother, who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 36 and his mother, who died of cancer at the age of 81. He is survived by his sister Marcia Grubb of Chicago, Gordy Rogers of New York, and his devoted and loving partner Ana Carmen Neboisa who nursed and advocated for him for 7 difficult years as he courageously fought progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare form of Parkinson’s. He will be laid to rest in the Historic Congressional Cemetery, a landmark and active burial ground located on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Grubb saw the world as a place where people are more alike than different and said that basically everyone wants the same things for their families and loved ones; freedom and an opportunity to live a peaceful, decent life.
26 CommentsLeave a comment
This is so sad. He was one of our Colombia I trainers in New Mexico in the Fall of 1963. I did not really know him, but always knew of him and all his many accomplishments. A life well lived and not soon forgotten. My condolences to all his many friends.
This is such sad news, thanks for sharing the impressive details of his life. Dennis was always a delight to meet up with and had endless hilarious stories. One of my faves: He was one of the first to be accepted by the Peace Corps. In fact it was so early on that Sargent Shriver called him personally – Dennis wasn’t in so he left a message with his mom, “Tell him Sarge called and he’s in!” Dennis’ mom thought he joined the army and was incredibly relieved to hear that he joined the Peace Corps. … RIP Dennis.
What a remarkable life full of service and wide engagement with the world.
We need more people like Dennis.
I feel blessed that I knew him in the
70s and now grateful to this wonderful bio to learn more about his life well lived.
Dennis was my buddy for over 40 yrs. he was a great inspiration to me and to crowd that called him “friend.” His view of the world was expansive and as such, Dennis tried to make a difference. He certainly did—YES, He DID!
Dennis was one of a small group of Colombia I PCVs who were, to Colombians and Americans, the faces and stories of Los Hijos de Kennedy . . .Kennedy’s Children.
Dennis was a good man in every respect. He thoughtful and kind in his dealing with people. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body. It was nice to be around him and his positive attitude. I will miss Dennis.
Dennis didnt know me but he took me in and gave me a couch to sleep on when I literally had nothing and nowhere to turn. That grew into 6 years as his roommate and many more years as close friend, confidant and traveling buddy. He was such a good and kind hearted man in so many ways, principled, smart, caring, funny – he shared so much with me, gave me direction and inspired me to lead the life I live today. Thank you for all you did and may you Rest In Peace forever.
I first met Dennis in Sri Lanka in 1991 when I was part of a team of USAID consultants assisting two Sri Lankan tire merchants buy the Kelani Tyre Company that was being privatized. Dennis was a senior advisor to the Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka, which was managing the issuance of the notes issued to help finance the purchase of the company. You could easily see how respected he was by his Sri Lankan colleagues and how much he respected and supported them.
Dennis invited my then Coopers & Lybrand colleague and I for lunch one weekend and introduced us to all the Peace Corps volunteers serving in the area. That is when I first learned about his Peace Corps experience and his interest in encouraging others to join that worthy cause.
A year or so later, when I was leading a team of consultants to explore the possibility of using USAID loan guaranties to encourage local banks to make small business loans, I asked Dennis to be part of the team and he was great since he knew all the financial sector “players” and they trusted him because they knew he only supported ideas that made life better for Sri Lankans.
Our friendship continued over the years and we shared a love for Habitat for Humanity, including his financial and moral support of DC Habitat for Humanity, where I was serving on the board.
Dennis was always looking to give a helping hand to others and I will cherish his friendship and work to keep his memory alive as a model for others.
In reading through your orbit, it must be so that your kind don’t come around often. And when they do, God wants them
baclk…. all too soon. With appreciation for all your commitments of service to others.
I knew Dennis and am proud to have counted him as a friend. I remember two times very well. First, we were in Nashville for a Peace Corps gathering. I went with Dennis and his then love shopping for cowboy boots for her. She picked out two pairs since they were on a two for one special. Dennis resisted her buying the boots since he was convinced they would quickly wind up at the back of the closet. But with her insistance and my slight nudge he caved and bought her the boots. Some years alter I saw him in DC and asked what became ot the boots. He replied, ” they are still at the back of the closet.” Second, I visited Dennis when he was workiing in Kiev, Ukraine where I had lived while my wiife was at our embassy there. He told me where he lived, the main building on Kiev’s main boulevard distinguished by the huge red star on top ot the building, a real example of Soviet architecture. I knew the building and got there easily by cab from the airport but on arrival discovered that I did not have his apartment number. I pounded on the front door until a lady came out to complain. Neither the cab driver nor her spoke English and I spoke no Russian, but somehow managed to convey that i was looking for an American who lived in the building. The lady, replied by showing me to his door. Everybody in the building knew the American living there.
No one personified the Peace Corps, in every way, more than Dennis. He was devoted to the cause of peace and to improving conditions for people everywhere – especially for the most impoverished and oppressed. At the same time, he was totally pragmatic and realistic. He lived and practiced his values every day.
I met Dennis nearly 30 years ago while serving as President of the National Peace Corps Association. We also shared a Peace Corps Colombia background as well as American University connections where I was an adjunct faculty member. It seemed that whenever I attended a Peace Corps event or Colombia event or American University event, Dennis was there. He always had his infectious smile and optimism and wise input. I don’t think there was ever an encounter with him – including when his health was in serious decline – when we didn’t share at least one deep, genuine laugh.
Everyone who knew Dennis is better for it. It’s hard to believe I will never see him again, but I will never forget him, and I will always treasure our friendship.
Hi Chic, Morgan Gale here. I know my father Bob would second everything you’ve said about Dennis. He wouldn’t think of himself as a great man, but he was and will remain so, forever.
He was a very good man. We worked together for smart financing instruments on the capital market, for the prosperity of Romanians. From Romania we pray for him, for the rest of his soul in a good place.
Dennis remains in my thoughts as an always graceful and decent and generous friend. I am happy to have known him and to have remained in touch over years, happy as well that he had the support of a loving partner in Ana, whom he met while they were living in Romania and who was with throughout his medically challenging last years.
Years ago, Dennis was an active member of the Anglican Church in Bucharest where he had many friends, including me. Too I was fortunate that for years, he was a senior advisor, and an altogether helpful associate in my then firm, APT Resources.
I am grateful that we were friends.
Dennis was really a very special person, creative and positive – a role model to many, certainly to me.
I came in contact with Dennis in Bombay in 1995 when he was PwC’s Chief for FIRE( Financial Institutions Reform and Expansion Project) of USAID and I was in SEBI( Securities Exchange Board of India), the regulator for capital markets in India. Such was his personality that while professionally coordinating with him on various capital market reform initiatives, we developed close personal connect.He diligently and cordially facilitated our visits with US SEC, NYSE, NASDAQ Stock Exchange and others. His professional approach beautifully combined with personal touch was always remarkable.
Even after our respective assignments were over, we remained in touch through phone, emails and later video calls. Once I was in New York and he came from Washington all the way to meet me. During his difficult period of illness, at times there will be gaps in connecting with him and that was very distressful. Dennis will leave a void in some corner of my heart never to be filled.
I will remain indebted to Ana, his dear friend, who many times put me on video call with Dennis during his difficult medical condition and the invisible bond I experienced beyond any words. Grateful Ana, also for letting us know his multifaceted humanitarian personality. May he rest in eternal bliss.
[…] To read more about the extraordinary life of William Dennis Grubb, please visit: https://peacecorpsworldwide.org/one-of-the-first-peace-corp-volunteers-dies-in-the-60th-anniversary-… […]
Although it’s been 13 years since I last connected with Dennis, I remember Dennis as a down to earth intellectual with an uncanny memory who knew how to connect with anyone, regardless of culture or social status. He was very friendly to me and shared fascinating stories and gems of wisdom from his incredible life that took him to interesting places. Whenever I see the $1 Bolt bus stop in New York Penn Station, I think of his visit. He was a busy man, yet made time for an RPCV.
May we all live a rich life of meaningful accomplishment.
Thank you Michelle.
I am glad that Dennis left wonderful memories. He loved the Bolt Bus.
I hope you have the time to watch the service online tomorrow, Nov 16, 12 pm ET:
Thank you for your friendship to Dennis.
I knew Dennis while I was in Colombia. Our group replaced Colombia One.
When we arrived in Bogota for orientation, Dennis and I spent good times together. He was an inspiring person who JFK would be proud of.
Thank you Paul.
Dennis would be humbled by your commentary.
I invite you to watch Dennis’s memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday, November 16, 12 pm ET.
Here is the link for the live webcast:
Thank you. Ana (Dennis’s friend).
Sending my sympathies to Ana and Dennis’s other friends and family. I knew him through the Fulbright Association in DC – always a warm smile and pleasant conversationalist. I had some idea about his illustrious career and humanitarian work, but seeing it all laid out is humbling. May he rest in peace.
Remembering Dennis Grubb
Dennis and I were classmates at Staples High School, Westport, Connecticut.
He was motivated by an insatiable curiosity and never tired of trying something new!
Best example, back in the day, the mantra was, “Go to college, stay in college, get a good job, have a good life!” Not Dennis! Dennis goes to college and halfway through he announces to the World by way of his picture on the front page of the Saturday Evening Post and a 4-page spread inside that he quit college and joined the Peace Corps as the youngest and first Peace Corps Group assigned to Colombia, South America. College degree, Masters degree, PhD degree all had to wait… put off for later!
Very much because of Dennis’s example, my brother and I joined the Peace Corps! …after college!
Dennis’s spirit will be with me always!
“Bill” William C. Needham, Jr.
RPCV Peru 1965-67
I was proud to call him a friend, having met him through John Coyne. He was a kind soul, incredibly bright and engaging. He knew so many people all over the world but over a coffee 1:1, he would make you feel like the most important person alive. Uncanny memory and command of details too. We had some remarkable conversations in Romania (where he was an expat and I was a PCV and later RPCV) and in Washington.
I remember one story from his days in Thailand, where Dennis was meeting with the Finance Minister and behind him was a photo of a bunch of Thai kids and an American teacher — turns out it was a PCV who taught the gentleman English.
No doubt he’s remembered fondly in Romania for his friendships and important work restructuring the country’s capital markets at a critical time. He’ll be missed. Heartfelt condolences to Ana and his family.
This is indeed sad news!
I’m sooo sorry to hear of Dennis’ passing, as it has always been good to see and interact with him at numerous RPCV events throughout the years. He thankfully left us all with wonder-full memories. I’m sure he’s looking at us–and advising us–from his Heavenly location!
I volunteered with Dennis at the Washington National Cathedral for over 10 years. He was always such a kind, gentle, giving and dedicated man. He was born of strong moral fabric and interwove his love for people and life’s learned experiences into everything he did. The PeaceCorps and all of Dennis’ volunteering made him a better man, a better human. His work made this world a better place. Though Dennis will be missed, he will be remembered by all the many people that he touched.
RIP and may God Bless those you leave behind, my friend. Be at Peace,