The news that Joan Dunlop died did not come as a great surprise, but it is still a shock. It was not surprising because I knew for some time that the cancer she battled many years ago had recurred and had spread. Joan tried to maintain her activities. She and I were scheduled to have lunch earlier this week, but she had to cancel.
It is a shock because Joan was my collaborator and my friend for forty years. We got to know each other during the struggle to legalize abortion in the United States and, after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, Joan helped me to establish a Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union to defend the decision. She persuaded John D. Rockefeller III to become the principal financial supporter of that Project.
When I moved on to Human Rights Watch, I enlisted Joan to help me launch a Women’s Rights Project for that organization. In turn, Joan enlisted me to serve on the Board of the International Women’s Health Coalition of which she had become President. Together with her deputy Adrienne Germain, who eventually succeeded her at IWHC, Joan played a crucial role in a global paradigm shift with respect to birth control. Joan and Adrienne took the lead in arguing that empowering women and advancing their rights are the most effective way to control reproduction. With rights, women themselves would limit the frequency with which they gave birth.
The third phase in my career was my move to the Open Society Foundations in 1993. Once again, I tried to make sure that I would have Joan at my side. I introduced her to George Soros at a lunch at my apartment. They too became friends. When we established a U.S. Programs division, Joan joined the Board. She also became Chair of the Board of our International Women’s Program.
The words that come to mind when I think of Joan are courage, dignity, principle, forthrightness, humor, and wisdom. An opportunity to see Joan and to spend time with her always brought pleasure. It is a privilege to have known her and to count her as my friend.