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Thomas Robert Forstenzer ’65

November 25, 2019, in Paris, France.

Tom was born in Washington Heights in New York City, where his father, Harold, was an attorney and politician and his mother, Ida, worked as a civil servant. He was senior class president at Stuyvesant High School.

At Reed he majored in history. Years later he would recall, with a joyful lowbrow reference to the movie Field of Dreams, “My official major was history, but really it was the ’60s.” Tom wrote his thesis, “German Preparation and Planning for Territorial Revision: the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia,” with Prof. Charles Bagg [history 1946–74] advising.

As student body president for 1962–63, he engaged in a series of struggles with the administration of Richard Sullivan [president 1956–67] aimed at overthrowing in loco parentis. Tom cherished the faculty supporters of the cause of students in those days, including Professors Marvin Levich [philosophy 1953–94], Gail Kelly [anthropology 1960–2000], Howard Jolly [sociology 1949–70], and Jack Dudman [mathematics and dean’s office 1953–85]. Above all, he took pride in participating in the authoring of a constitution of community government, which ensured that student voice would play a significant role in the college’s disciplinary procedures.

Tom began postgraduate studies in history at Stanford University, where he served as temporary president and speaker of the Legislature of the Associated Students and sat on the Committee of Fifteen. He led and was involved in student protests against the war in Vietnam and for civil rights, and actively campaigned for Pete McCloskey, Robert Kennedy, and Eugene McCarthy in their respective presidential runs.

By the time he finished his PhD in modern European history, he had already begun teaching at Rutgers University where he became an assistant professor and won an award for teaching.

In 1981, his book French Provincial Police and the Fall of the Second Republic: Social Fear and Counterrevolution was published by Prince-ton University Press, and he edited Youth in the 1980s, published by UNESCO Press.

In 1980, Tom began working for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Paris. He did fieldwork in Zimbabwe and Indonesia before being stationed in New York and then at the headquarters in Paris. Taking on progressively more responsibilities within the organization, he rose through the ranks, eventually joining the cabinet of the director-general. As the principal English-language writer for the director-general, he was tasked with bringing the U.S. and the U.K. back into the organization, a task completed in 1997 through the sustained lobbying of legislators in each country.

With Director General Federico Mayor, Tom coauthored The New Page (1995, UNESCO Press), which set out a bold vision for international cooperation focusing on a “culture of peace.” At its heart were the two notions that (a) governments of wealthy nations ought to allocate a small portion of their defense budgets towards education, science, and culture in less developed countries, and (b) peacebuilding ought to be understood as a professional activity.

This second notion led Tom to work with Larry Seaquist, former captain of the U.S. Navy, in developing a model of peacebuilding based on scaffolded interactions between enemy groups playing a specially designed real time community game—in short, a war game where the goal is not victory but peace.

“Working directly with UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and other world leaders, Tom helped author a bold new strategy for international peace in the post-Cold War era,” Seaquist said. “Working with leaders in conflict regions and civil wars, he helped design and demonstrate innovative approaches to peacebuilding and conflict prevention.”

Eventually Tom gained diplomatic status, becoming the director and chief executive officer in the UNESCO Director-General’s Secretariat.

When he retired, Tom returned to his passions for history and politics. He read widely and campaigned—as part of Democrats Abroad—for Wesley Clark in the primary and John Kerry in the general election in 2004, and for Barack Obama in 2008.

“Occasionally, Tom would try to explain to his children that his efforts—academic and political—came from a desire to extend his understanding of Reed’s Honor Principle to the world,” said his son Joshua. “By doing so, I think he hoped to make the world a little more like Reed College. At 75, he remained a Reedie through and through.”

Tom is survived by his daughter, Nicole Forstenzer; his sons, Harold and Joshua Forstenzer; and his brother, Steve Forstenzer.

Appeared in Reed magazine: February 2020

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