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INTERVIEW WITH AMB. PHILIP C. WILCOX: Porter Fellow speaks with career diplomat about Mideast Peace

Last month, our Porter Fellow, The Rev. John Hunt, met with Former US Ambassador (Ret) Philip Wilcox to hear about his thoughts on peacebuilding in the Holy Lands.

Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox is one of Jerusalem PeaceBuilder’s earliest friends and one of its most staunchly committed supporters. His stalwart support comes from the fact that he has experienced, first hand, the depth and complexities of the troubles, and witnessed the repeated cycles of pain. Having served as Chief of Mission and U.S. Consul General, Jerusalem, he has a unique understanding of what is at stake.

Ambassador Wilcox received his undergraduate degree from Williams College in 1958. While at Williams Wilcox met the college chaplain, the Reverend William Sloan Coffin. Rev. Coffin ended up having a significant influence on Wilcox and the trajectory of his life. Following the conferral of an LL.B. from Stanford Law School in 1961, Wilcox was inspired and recruited by Coffin to work as a school teacher in Sierra Leone, West Africa, for two years.

Upon his return to the United States, Ambassador Wilcox began working for a local law firm in his home town of Denver. After three years, however, he suspected that his calling lay elsewhere and decided to enter the Foreign Service in 1966. His suspicion was correct. Ambassador Wilcox remained in the diplomatic corps for 32 years. He served at a variety of embassies located throughout the world. Specifically, he served in Jakarta, Indonesia, Vientiane, Laos, and Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was, however, his final overseas assignment in Jerusalem that left a truly indelible mark on him. According to Wilcox, he left Jerusalem, “with a never ending passion and commitment to peace in the Middle East.” Following Ambassador Wilcox’s retirement from government service in 1997, he went on to become president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a capacity in which he remained for 15 years.

The combination of service in public and private venues has enabled Ambassador Wilcox to attain a unique grasp of the fundamental underlying issues, the added complexities of ever volatile political realities, and constantly evolving demographics and sensibilities. He has, in a moment of reflection for this article, revealed some deep frustration as a lifelong professional and career diplomat with the sometimes short-sighted political agendas of various administrations. Ambassador Wilcox has spent 25 to 30 years learning about the conflict, and he has deep convictions as to what solutions can be viable, as well as potentially enduring. He is under no naïve impressions that there are quick, easy, or obvious ‘fixes.’ The myriad of complex issues requires a myriad of complex responses. This is where he recognized value in the work performed by JPB. Ambassador Wilcox and Fr. Nicholas first met in the early 1990’s when they both worked in Jerusalem. Ambassador Wilcox recognized very real value in JPB’s approach to sowing the blessings of peace starting with interfaith youth and providing them with ways to re-envision a new, more compassionate way to dialogue. He was one of JPB’s original guest educators working with the first Leadership Institutes during 2011 and 2012, in Vermont.

Ambassador Wilcox married his “courageous and supportive wife,” Cynda, in 1955. They have two adult children who, although finding their own paths, have echoed the real service that his and Cynda’s lives have modeled. Their daughter, a Yale graduate, works for the U.S. State Department. Their son, a graduate of Stanford and Berkeley, is a geomorphologist and professor at University of Montana and will begin working on climate change in Washington, DC, this next year.


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