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In Remembrance: Ambassador James A. Joseph, Chair Emeritus, MDC Board of Directors

James A. Joseph, appointed by President Bill Clinton as the first US Ambassador to a democratic South Africa, passed away on Feb. 17. Ambassador Joseph was chair emeritus of MDC’s board of directors and professor of the practice emeritus in the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy. He was 87.

An invaluable and cherished member of the MDC community, Ambassador Joseph served as chair of the board of directors for MDC beginning in 2007 and remained on the board as chair emeritus. He also served on the board of directors of the Brookings Institution, the National Endowment for Democracy, Africare, and the Children’s Defense Fund.

“Ambassador Joseph’s impact and legacy will live on for generations in the many organizations and communities he both led and worked alongside to advance equity and civil rights,” said MDC President John Simpkins.  “Given our shared love of the American South as well as South Africa, it remains a privilege to carry on the work he steadfastly supported at MDC, particularly in shaping what has now become Equity-Centered Philanthropy. Ambassador Joseph was first and foremost a champion of dignity and his wisdom and passion still guide our efforts.”

Ambassador Joseph joined Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy in 2000. He was leader in residence for the Hart Leadership Program and founder of the United States-Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke and the University of Cape Town. He became Sanford professor of the practice emeritus in 2011.

In 1999, the Republic of South Africa awarded Ambassador Joseph the Order of Good Hope, the highest honor bestowed on a citizen of another country. In 2008, he was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame and in 2010 he was honored by the United States Peace Corps for his life-long contributions to voluntarism and civil society.

After graduating from Southern University and Yale, Ambassador Joseph began his career at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 1963, where he was the founding co-chair of the local civil rights movement. A frequent speaker to academic, civic, and religious audiences, he was the author of four books, The Charitable Impulse, Remaking America, and Leadership as a Way of Being. His fourth book, Saved for a Purpose: A Journey from Private Virtues to Public Values, was published by Duke University Press in 2015.

He was the recipient of nineteen honorary degrees, and his undergraduate alma mater, Southern University, named an endowed chair in his honor. The board of directors of the Council on Foundations appointed him President Emeritus, and the Association of Black Foundation Executives established the James A. Joseph Lecture on Philanthropy. He was also chairman emeritus of the NHP Foundation.

Ambassador Joseph is survived by his wife, Emmy award-winning journalist Mary Braxton Joseph, a son, daughter, and grandchildren.