FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Robert P. DeVecchi, who beginning in 1975 helped to steer the International Rescue Committee into a leading global humanitarian organization as CEO and president, died Oct. 26 of natural causes at his home in Southport. He was 85.
Born in New York City on Oct. 6, 1930, DeVecchi attended the Buckley School, Lawrenceville and the Collegiate School. He graduated from Yale University in 1952, and received his MBA from Harvard University in 1956.
DeVecchi served as a foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State, in posts ranging from NATO headquarters in Paris to the U.S. embassies in Warsaw and Rome.
In 1972, after serving as the European Director of the Conference Board, based in Paris, DeVecchi became Director of Inner Cities Programs, as well as the New York Representative of the Save the Children Foundation.
He joined the International Rescue Committee in 1975 as coordinator of the agency's Indochinese Refugee Resettlement Program, the largest refugee resettlement effort in U.S. history. He became IRC program director in 1980, executive director in 1985, and president and CEO in 1993, a position he held until 1997, when he was elected president emeritus of the organization.
Under DeVecchi's leadership, the IRC played an increasingly important role in global relief and development while maintaining its position as one the leading American resettlement agencies. Among the numerous initiatives under DeVecchi's leadership was the creation of emergency relief programs in more than 28 countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Iraq, El Salvador and Bosnia.
Whether facing the civil war in the Balkans, the displacement of Kurds from northern Iraq after the Gulf War, drought and famine in Somalia, upheavals in West Africa, renewed warfare in Sudan, ethnic strife in Ethiopia, the civil war in Burundi or genocide in Rwanda, DeVecchi and the IRC played a crucial role in saving lives and alleviating suffering as, also under his leadership, the IRC did earlier in Thailand, Cambodia, Central America and Malawi.
DeVecchi also initiated a domestic refugee resettlement program in the United States. An average of 1 million refugees or displaced persons received IRC assistance every year, and up to 10,000 refugees were permanently resettled.
After retiring from the IRC in 1997, DeVecchi was appointed adjunct senior fellow for refugees and the displaced at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In 1996, he was awarded the Peacemakers Award of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.; and in 1998, the IRC Freedom Award recognized him for his "extraordinary contribution to the cause of refugees and human freedom."
In 2005, Yale University granted him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, noting, "Undaunted by the vast enterprise of assisting those displaced by war, famine, and flood, you have retained an optimism of the possible."
DeVecchi was also a longtime member, and director emeriti, of Refugees International, and also of the FilmAid Advisory Council.
He was a member of the Maidstone Club, St. Anthony's Hall, the Century Club, the Yale Club and the Pequot Yacht Club.
He was predeceased by his second wife, Betsy Stettinius Trippe.
He is survived by two daughters, Margaret Lincoln DeVecchi of Northampton, Mass., and Angela DeVecchi of Watertown, Mass.; stepchildren, William Douglass of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., William Duke of New York, N.Y., Terry Marsh of Bremen, Maine, and John Duke of Providence, R.I.; a sister, Margaret Gabriel, of Washington, D.C.; and many grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at St. James Church, 865 Madison Ave., New York, on Dec. 4, at 11 a.m., with a reception to follow at the Union Club.
In lieu of donations, contributions can be made to the International Rescue Committee. For travel directions or to sign his online register, visit www.LeskoPolkeFuneralHome.com .
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