When you have Amy Carter in your after-school program, you’d better be on your toes. Florence Hesser did, and was. In the halcyon days of yore, when good-minded people called themselves liberal without embarrassment, we still believed in the three R’s and chemical fertilizer, in third-world change through technology and in the trickle down cosmology.
Leon, who wrote their story, and Florence, who could have written it, took to their overseas adventures by conviction. They were latecomers to education, getting their degrees in the midst of marriage. Raised on farms in Indiana, they were prepared to take up the life that seemed their heritage after Leon got back from his service in World War II. But with determination and a good wife, Leon got a Ph.D. in his thirties and encouraged his wife to go to college as well. Then they struck out from home with two children in tow.
Possibly his observation of peasant cultures in the Philippines and Japan was the spark that drew Leon to foreign service, where with the USAID and other agencies he became a prime mover in the “green revolution.” Ultimately he was asked to head the Agricultural Office of USAID’s Asia bureau, managing a fifty million dollar annual budget and overseeing the policies that had as their goal increased food production for emerging nations. This was agri-evangelism, complete with designer pesticides and hybrid seed. Though humble about his abilities and acumen, Leon was an expediter whose skills as both educator and executive were recognized and utilized wherever he found himself.
While Leon concentrated on increasing food supplies, Florence focused on increasing educational skills. Literacy was her spearhead project in many of the exotic locales where the couple ended up. She encouraged her students not just to read and write but to set their sights on a college degree. Her successes were notable both overseas and in Washington, where she was director of the Reading Center in the School of Education at George Washington University. It was there she met the Carters and had a hand in teaching Amy in a class for gifted children. The Carters in turn supported the program, several times inviting the children to White House functions. Heady stuff for a farm girl from Indiana.
The Hessers profess a strong Christian faith that undoubtedly has played a role in their success and determination. Their story will inspire, as it is meant to, as well as amusing and informing the reader.