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.