The brisk Boston wind swept over the dark brown hair of Timothy E. Wirth ’61 as he watched a young Massachusetts native who would become the next president.
While the election of 1960 was one of Wirth’s most memorable moments during his time at Harvard College, more inspiring was the culture of public service President John F. Kennedy ’40 cultivated during Wirth’s college years.
“This was a generation of ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’” Wirth says.
Those words influenced Wirth well beyond his college years. Currently the president of the United Nations Foundation and a former U.S. Senator, the alert and energetic Wirth has created a life-long career based on serving others.
A GREENER FUTURE
As a Senator from Colorado for 17 years, Wirth found his passion in environmental issues. His support was influential in the passage of 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act that first outlined the structure of cap-and-trade for carbon emissions, as well as other significant environmental protection legislation—adding one million acres to the national wilderness preservation system.
Stirring much controversy in political circles, Wirth decided not to run for re-election in 1994, hoping to devote more energy to public service and environmental causes.
Wirth continues his work on the environment, hoping to create a greener world for his grandchildren, according to Richard S. Parnell, Chief Operating Officer of the U.N. Foundation. After working with billionaire entrepreneur Ted Turner—who donated millions to the U.N. to begin a philanthropic arm—Wirth became the president of the U.N. Foundation at its inception, focusing its work on humanitarian and climate change efforts.
Before beginning his career of politics and philanthropy, Wirth was “Baby Dean” of Harvard, a position for young graduates who would do administrative work in the Freshman Dean’s Office and University Hall.
“He handles pressure well,” says Fred L. Glimp ’50, Dean of Admissions during Wirth’s time in the administration. “He’s a positive ... young man and really an outstanding person.”
Wirth’s wife, Wren W. Wirth, says she believes her husband’s involvement with institutional issues early on set the trajectory for the rest of his career, from working as a White House Fellow under President Lyndon B. Johnson to serving in the U.S. Department of State as the first Undersecretary for Global Affairs under President Bill Clinton.
“The wonderful thing about his career path as it developed was the progression from local issues, to national issues, to international issues,” Wren Wirth says.
Wren Wirth adds that she was drawn to the energy that always emanated from her husband—a quality that she believes has made him successful in professional life.
“He has a great sense of irony and a great sense of [the] ridiculous,” she says.