It is with the deepest sadness that the U.S. Institute of Peace mourns the passing of our beloved colleague Virginia M. “Ginny” Bouvier, the institute’s senior advisor for peace processes. Ginny passed away July 29, surrounded by her family, after a prolonged illness.
Available in Spanish
Ginny was the face—and essence—of USIP’s work on Colombia’s peace process for over a decade. The Colombian peace accord signed last September was unprecedented in its inclusion of victims, women and minorities, due in no small part to Ginny’s unrelenting support and advice to so many of those involved. She was among the few foreign guests invited to attend the signing ceremony in Cartagena. And a think tank in Colombia, Corporación Arco Iris, in 2012 named Ginny among four Americans on its list of the 11 most influential international experts advising on the peace process over the previous decade. Colombian friends organized prayer groups for Ginny during her illness.
“Ginny was an extraordinary source of inspiration. She committed her heart and soul to building a more peaceful world, and I can think of no higher praise than to say that she succeeded,” USIP President Nancy Lindborg said. “She did more than talk about peace—she worked tirelessly, year after year, to make peace possible. I know she was quite proud to have been invited to witness the signing of the agreement she worked so hard to realize.”
Ginny came to USIP in 2003, and quickly established herself as the institute’s resident expert on Latin America. She became the head of the Colombia program in 2006, and almost single-handedly led USIP’s efforts in the region.
Her devotion to the Colombia peace process was remarkable, as she traveled back and forth between Washington D.C. and Colombia, training local women mediators, supporting transformative dialogues and guiding U.S. and international thinking on policy and the years-long peace negotiations in Havana. Ultimately, she contributed significantly to helping bring an end to a 50-year-old conflict and to ensuring that terms of the agreement would give it better-than-usual odds of succeeding in the difficult years of transition ahead.
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a senior member of the House of Representatives, lauded Ginny in a floor speech on July 28. Ginny represented USIP as a member of a delegation he led to Colombia in 2003, organized by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and Rep. McGovern spoke on Colombia at USIP in July 2009. He said in his House speech that he has known Ginny for more than 30 years, and has seen her “create the conditions … so that peace may take hold, even during violent conflict.”
“She is a powerful voice for peace, and a strong, loving, generous spirit,” Rep. McGovern said. “Around the world, but especially in Colombia, she has brought together people from different points of view, different walks of life, the powerful and the marginalized. She has worked alongside them to find common ground and common purpose in building peace.”
Ginny’s life before joining USIP also reflected her love for Latin America. She was an assistant professor of Latin American literature and culture at the University of Maryland. She had served as senior associate at WOLA, a human rights organization, working on Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Joe Eldridge, a USIP board member who co-founded WOLA in 1974 and served as its first director, said he first met Ginny decades ago. He noted that when she first walked into the office, it became immediately apparent that she would be a fierce champion for democracy and human rights.
"She was a focused and determined young woman fervently committed to advancing a peace and justice agenda for the hemisphere,” he said. “She was relentless in her pursuit of a more gentle and a kinder world.”
Ginny also had been a consultant and research director for the Women’s Leadership Conference of the Americas, a joint project of the Inter-American Dialogue and the International Center for Research on Women, and a consultant for USAID, UN Women, World Bank, Levi Strauss Foundation, Levi Strauss and Co. and the C.S. Fund. Ginny was a graduate of Wellesley College, and had an MA in Spanish from the University of South Carolina, and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley in Latin American studies.
Our thoughts and prayers are with her family. Ginny leaves behind her husband Jim, her daughter Maya and a legacy of peace. Ginny’s death will be felt far beyond our walls, from her friends and colleagues around the world, to the Colombian people to whom she devoted so much of her time and formidable energy. Ginny will be sincerely missed.