James Purcell '61
I graduated in 1961 with a B.A. in political science from Furman. I received the Ulmer medal for that year.
Ernie Harrill helped me get a fellowship from Syracuse University's Maxwell school, where I received a MPA in 1962.
I entered the federal government as a management intern with the Atomic Energy Commission in 1962 and began a career that took me to the Agency for International Development, the Bureau of the Budget (later named the Office of Management and Budget or OMB), and the State Department.
Following American withdrawal from Vietnam, I was assigned to create a new organization by the Carter Administration's State Department to rescue our Indochinese allies left behind. That new organization became the State's Bureau for Refugee Programs (RP), which I directed for most of the next decade as Assistant Secretary of State. Over that time RP resettled more than 800,000 refugees in the United States, mostly from Southeast Asia, but also many from the former Soviet Union, Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. We also provided life-saving assistance to as many as ten million refugees annually around the world.
As the Reagan Administration was coming to an end, I was nominated to be the U.S. candidate for the position of Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva, Switzerland. I was elected to a five-year term by the member governments. In 1993, I was nominated again by the Clinton Administration for a second IOM term and was reelected.
IOM helped governments around the world manage migration, including helping address the many problems arising from illegal and irregular migration. We were one of the major responding multilateral organizations to human crises and emergencies that arose around the world during that time, e.g., the Balkans, Rwanda, Middle East, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, former USSR, and elsewhere. Although precise numbers are not available, we estimated that IOM assisted, on the average, more than a million crisis victims each year during my IOM tenure.
I have received numerous awards and recognitions from governments and organizations around the world for this work.
I am now writing a book about my humanitarian work and the special teams that helped me over the years.