The Ripon Forum

Volume 55, No. 6

December 2021

In Memoriam – Judy Van Rest

By on December 14, 2021

September 17, 1946 – November 24, 2021

Washington is filled with quiet leaders who believe in the promise of America and dedicate their lives to making our country and our world a better place to live.  Judy Van Rest, who served as a member of The Ripon Forum’s Editorial Board for 11 years and passed away last month, was one of those leaders. 

Born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas and a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, Judy moved to our nation’s capital in 1976, where she began a life-long career in politics and public service.  Her resume as a public servant was as impressive as they come. 

In the early 1980s, Judy served in the Reagan White House, working as Deputy to the Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs.  From 1989 through 1992, she served as Chief of Staff in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.  She would later hold management positions at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Smithsonian Institution, and the Republican National Committee.

In 2004, Judy was appointed Executive Vice President of the International Republican Institute.  It was at IRI that her reputation as a defender of freedom and champion of women’s rights really took off.  Under her stewardship, IRI became a global leader in promoting good governance, the empowerment of women and youth, political party strengthening, and free and fair elections.

In 2006, Judy founded IRI’s Women’s Democracy Network, which has worked with thousands of women in 80 countries — empowering them to participate in the political process and equipping them with the skills to assume leadership roles. Judy also oversaw IRI’s Freedom Award Celebration, which honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the cause of liberty, often under the most difficult circumstances. 

“Judy was an inspiration to everyone in the IRI family and a powerful voice for those struggling to live a life of dignity free from political oppression,” IRI’s President, Daniel Twining, said in a statement released shortly after her death. “Her lifelong dedication to democratic progress and women’s empowerment will continue to resonate around the world. Judy’s passion for equipping and empowering women to participate in the civic and political life of their countries was an animating force throughout her career.  She was a champion of liberty for all people, and she will be missed.”

In addition to working at IRI, Judy was a member of the Women’s Initiative Policy Advisory Council at the George W. Bush Institute.  She also served on the boards of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University and the United States Institute of Peace. From 2003 to 2004, she served as Senior Advisor for Governance and Director of the Office of Democratic Initiatives for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, Iraq. In the early 2000s, Judy served as Regional Director for Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia at the Peace Corps.

Her efforts over the years won her respect and admiration on both sides of the political aisle.

“Judy was a true public servant who dedicated her life to creating a more just, free, and democratic world,” stated Republican Senator Dan Sullivan (AK), who serves as Chairman of the IRI Board. “Her work will live on, particularly in helping women around the world achieve a greater participation in the political process and civil society. Julie and I are deeply saddened and extend our condolences to Judy’s family and friends, the IRI team, and the literally thousands of people at home and abroad who she positively impacted.” 

Democratic Congressman David Price (NC-4), who serves as Chairman of the House Democracy Partnership, struck a similar note.

“Judy’s time at IRI was marked by a strong dedication to promoting democracy and good governance worldwide, which contributed greatly to the collaboration between HDP and IRI over the past fifteen years,” Price said in a statement.  “I remember fondly running into Judy in Kyrgyzstan as we were both preparing to meet with new Members of Parliament. The development community has a lost a dear friend today, and we extend our condolences and best wishes to Judy’s family and colleagues.”

Members of the international community took to social media to mark Judy’s passing.

“When a mentor believes in you, hold on to him/her tightly,” the Women’s Democracy Network in Uganda (@WDNUganda) tweeted. “Ms. Judy Van Rest the founder of @wdn believed in women & their abilities to transform the world. We will honor Ms. Judy’s vision for @wdn by even being more resolute in our work towards creating a fair society for all.”

The Women’s Democracy Network in Albania (@WdnAlbania) echoed this sentiment. 

“A true role model Judy Van Rest passed away losing the only battle that challenged her forces,” the group said in a tweet.  “She has been a champion for democracy and governance work around the world, and especially @wdn.  We will continue to build her legacy through our work.”

Judy’s loss will also be felt at The Ripon Forum

“At every editorial board meeting, Judy brought her vibrant, welcoming personality, thoughtful commentary, and most importantly, her positive outlook on life.  No issue, in her mind, was too tough to tackle,” said Jim Conzelman, President and CEO of The Ripon Society.

The Forum’s Editor, Lou Zickar, agreed.

“Her insights and observations about the world — and about America’s vital role as the leader of the free world — have helped shape the editorial focus and direction of our pages for over a decade,” he stated.  “We will miss her sage advice and counsel moving forward.  More than anything, though, we will remain forever grateful that we had the opportunity to call her a colleague and a friend.”

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