Steve Kaffen Remembers Jerry Black
Jerry Black (Comoros Island 1992-94; PC Office of Inspector General 2010-21) passed away from gun violence on June 29, 2021. I worked with Jerry in OIG, and on Sunday, August 25th, attended a “Celebration of Life Service” at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Bethesda, MD along with members of OIG (past and present), the Peace Corps community, and Jerry’s family. In addition, over 120 participated via Zoom.
The speakers were principally from Jerry’s family, including his wife Cathy Feingold and their oldest son, Myles. The service contained interludes of live music in recognition of Jerry’s facility with trumpet and guitar. Representing the agency, Kate Raftery, Expert Consultant in the Peace Corps’ Office of the Director, expressed the agency’s condolences and detailed Jerry’s lifelong commitment to international development and to the Peace Corps, which included service as a secondary school English teacher in the Comoros Islands and as the leader of the OIG Evaluation Unit.
After the service, the OIG attendees and their families met in a nearby park. Because of the pandemic, everyone, both present and former staff, had not seen each other in at least a year. As we mingled and engaged, more than a few of us recognized that Jerry’s spirit of cohesiveness and camaraderie was with us.
OIG set up digital condolences book, and its contributors included dozens of headquarter and post management and staff, past and present. The comments are telling: “I was struck by his kindness and his commitment to service.” “We had the opportunity to benefit from his guidance and wisdom.” “The world needs more people like him.” “Jerry’s legacy of kindness, fairness, and commitment will live on,” and “May he inspire us to be kinder, gentler people.” “We all have fond memories of Jerry.” Former Director Jody Olsen wrote, “He helped create the safety and security program.” And from an OIG colleague: “He turned the office into a home.”
To me, of Jerry’s attributes, the standout was his decency. His personality traits—the soft and lively sense of humor, engaging smile, positive energy, and commitment to the best in people—were some elements. Jerry’s interpersonal skills, people sensitivities, and compassion complemented his technical skills and international development knowledge and made him particularly effective in his work. Perhaps those who have benefitted most are the volunteers—in training, site selection, projects, housing, and safety and security—from reports of recommendations that Jerry authored and/or oversaw. To this end, he leaves an indelible legacy within the agency and the OIG, and rich memories for those who were fortunate to know him.
Steve Kaffen (Russia 1994-96) was later the Assistant Inspector General for Auditing at the Peace Corps. As a member of the Explorer’s Club, he has visited many countries and has also monitored elections for the UN, written the soccer World Cup’s operating procedures, reviewed UNICEF and USAID programs and National Endowment for the Arts grants, served as an advisor on Washington, D.C.’s 2019 Bus Transformation Project, and has published a half dozen travel books.