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Mercy Corps' very first employee

June 25, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Dan O&#039;Neill/Mercy Corps  </span>
    In September 1980 I got a call from Lisa Otis, the wife of a good friend: "George and I are moving to the Seattle area and I'm wondering if you could use an assistant at Save The Refugees Fund?" Photo: Dan O'Neill/Mercy Corps

It was September 1980, and I had been running Save The Refugees Fund out of a tiny, donated office space in Seattle for nine months. Alone.

I called, wrote to, and met with donors, arranged my own travel, designed and mailed appeal letters to the growing donor list, traveled on speaking tours, did media interviews and made grants to NGOs working on the front lines of Cambodia's massive refugee population in Thailand. I was beginning to hit the wall of exhaustion. The mission had become bigger than me.

Then one day, out of the blue, I received a call from Lisa Otis. "George and I are moving to the Seattle area and I'm wondering if you could use an assistant at Save The Refugees Fund?" she queried.

I had met George Otis in January 1973 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where we studied in a faith-based school for three months. That October, we did a battlefield photo-journalism tour of the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War. A fast friendship was born. In September 1974, George introduced me to Cherry Boone in Beverly Hills, and was a groomsman in the Oct. 4, 1975 wedding!

Following George and Lisa's worldwide missionary wanderings, they settled in the Seattle area. And Lisa, indeed, became Save The Refugees Fund's first employee — later to become Mercy Corps' first employee when I incorporated the organization in July 1981. Lisa was a true joy to work with and she will always be a foundational part of our history.

On Tuesday, we met for lunch and spent nearly two hours getting up to date. My, how time flies ... it has been 30 years! Thanks, Lisa, for being at the right place and the right time 30 years ago.