August 15, 2009
Washington, DC - With grief and a deep sense of loss, Refugees International announces that Kenneth H. Bacon, President of Refugees International, died this morning from an aggressive melanoma that spread into his brain. Mr. Bacon, who became President of Refugees International in 2001 and was only 64 years old at the time of his death, devoted the final years of his life to building the organization into the leading advocacy group on refugee crises.
"Ken Bacon was an extraordinary human being. He led by example and dedicated his efforts to help those most vulnerable - refugees and displaced persons across the globe," said Farooq Kathwari, Chair of the Board of Directors of Refugees International. "We are inspired by his passion, his integrity, his humility, and the dignity with which he faced the inevitable. We will sorely miss our friend and colleague."
Under Mr. Bacon's leadership, Refugees International doubled in size and grew from an organization that largely sounded the alarm on the latest refugee crisis to a program built on sustained advocacy to transform unwieldy and often ineffective international systems. During his tenure, the organization successfully advocated for increased protection and assistance for displaced people in places like Darfur and Iraq, where he focused much of his own work, as well as in Afghanistan, Burma, the DR Congo, Colombia, and Thailand. Mr. Bacon also launched new advocacy programs on peacekeeping and statelessness.
In the last few months of his life, Mr. Bacon turned his passion towards the growing threat of climate displacement. Just a few weeks prior to his death, he and his wife Darcy provided a generous donation to establish the Ken and Darcy Bacon Center for the Study of Climate Displacement.
"Ken's death is an enormous loss --- to his family, his friends, and Refugees International. All of us here will miss his leadership, his kindness, and his quiet passion," said Joel Charny acting president of Refugees International. "He never stopped looking for new ways to bring attention to the millions of people who have been uprooted by violence and conflict. The world's most vulnerable people have lost one of their most tireless advocates."
In 2004, Mr. Bacon made Darfur his primary regional focus before throngs of activists and celebrities began calling for support to the region. In 2005, he accompanied UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Darfur, and he met with Sudanese President Al-Bashir in 2007 to push for a ceasefire and greater access for relief workers in Darfur. Over the years, he travelled to Darfur four times, wrote op-ed pieces, conducted media interviews and testified to Congress in his trademark bowtie, participated in think-tank working groups, debated the merits of military action with journalists and humanitarian workers and gave advice to the leaders of the grassroots movements that made Darfur a household name. These efforts helped lead to the substantial funding the U.S. has provided for aid to the people of Darfur and to African Union and United Nations peacekeepers in the region.
"Ken would walk the corridors of power one day and then meet with refugees in the most remote areas of Darfur the next. His unique mixture of expertise in the media, military affairs, and U.S. government policy, added to his compassion for vulnerable refugees, made him one of the great voices in humanitarian advocacy," continued Charny. "Ken always saw the best in people. His ability to connect with nearly everyone he met made it possible for him to convince officials at the highest levels of government and the United Nations to make the necessary changes to save lives and protect people from harm."
In 2006, Mr. Bacon pushed Refugees International to investigate the plight of Iraqi refugees at a time when no one was willing to acknowledge or speak out about this matter. Drawing on the findings of Refugees International's field research teams, Mr. Bacon was a leader in pushing the U.S. government and the UN to recognize the world's fastest growing refugee crisis at that time. His advocacy with senior administration officials and key members of Congress, such as Senator Edward Kennedy, was instrumental in achieving extensive press coverage and policy discussions on Iraqi displacement, the creation of a State Department task force on the problem, a sharp increase in international assistance for displaced Iraqis, and greater numbers of Iraqis being resettled in this country.
Mr. Bacon wrote a few months before his death, "When I came to Refugees International in 2001, I planned to stay for several years and then retire or move on to teaching or writing, but the challenge of the work and the commitment of the staff are too exciting to leave." When he thanked people for their support of the organization, he regularly noted, "We have a lot to do."
In 1994, Mr. Bacon became Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon spokesman. During the U.S. and NATO operations in Kosovo, Mr. Bacon became convinced that the world needed more people working to stop human rights abuses and to assist people displaced by man-made and natural disasters. He became president of Refugees International in 2001 to help further that goal.
From 1969 to 1994 Mr. Bacon worked as a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Bacon received his Bachelor's degree from Amherst College, and a Master's degree in Business Administration and Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1968 to 1974.
Mr. Bacon is survived by his wife, two daughters, two grandchildren, his brother and his father. The board and staff of Refugees International express their deepest condolences to his family and friends.
A memorial service will take place in Washington, DC in September and forthcoming details will be posted on the Refugees International website. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family has designated Refugees International for memorial contributions in honor of Mr. Bacon. For more information, go to http://www.refugeesinternational.org/ken-bacon.
Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises.
For media inquiries, please call Megan Fowler at 202-828-0110 x214.