I never intended to write a book, let alone a memoir. However, several years after I retired from an enormously satisfying 45-year career, I decided to undertake a new challenge. At the outset, I did not fully realize the amount of work involved. Overall, it was a rewarding experience, and I learned a lot! I appreciate the encouragement and help of family members and a few close friends as well as those involved in the editing and publishing process.
I began this adventure by thinking about the core values instilled in me at a young age that have dominated my life and work, even though I may not have practiced them consistently or perfectly. I had fun selecting inspirational quotes for my most important guiding principles. I then decided to put on paper my reflections about leadership and mentorship, based on my experience and observations over the years.
After completing the last section of my book, I started at the beginning, highlighting pivotal moments in my youth and what led me to embrace a career dedicated to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in developing countries. I enjoyed reminiscing about the amazing people I met around the world and the wide array of experiences I had working for government and non-profit organizations. I tried to record, to the best of my recollections, some of the major events and accomplishments during my tenure at the Population Reference Bureau, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Ipas, reflecting the contributions of dedicated and talented colleagues.
While there have been many advances in the SRHR field over the past five decades, I devote a section of the book to examining the huge unmet needs and the road ahead before all individuals can enjoy these basic human rights. I had almost finished the first draft of my memoir when COVID-19 hit and began to spread rapidly. The pandemic has changed the lives of almost everyone on our planet. It is tragic to witness the scale of suffering and deaths around the world. As I note in my book, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable populations, including the ability of poor people, especially women and girls in developing countries, to access the information and services they need to have full control over their reproductive decision making.
We know that completing the unfinished agenda in SRHR has now become much more challenging, requiring greatly expanded and accelerated efforts at every level and across all sectors throughout the developing world. The current public health crisis and the recent sobering examples in the U.S. of systemic racism and police violence against people of color led me to add more to the chapters on core values and leadership as well.
Along with a focus on advancing reproductive choice for all, I included a section in the book entitled “Maximizing Life’s Opportunities.” I highlighted memorable experiences that my husband, Terry, and I have shared outside the U.S., including living in France part time over the last 35 years. Since retirement, we have been based in Nice for up to six months a year, except during most of 2020 when we have been largely confined to our home and neighborhood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Like everyone, we have focused on trying to avoid coming down with the coronavirus and keeping in close touch virtually with family and friends around the world. We look forward to being able to travel again at some point in 2021 as soon as vaccines are available. Most of all, we want to spend time in our little pied-à-terre on the other side of the Atlantic, seeing friends and favorite places along with enjoying new adventures.
While we cannot predict the future, we do know that unprecedented times provide unique opportunities for innovation and lasting change. I have great hope that with enlightened and compassionate leadership and with the full engagement of young people around the world, we can make significant progress in building a better future for all.