By Steve Yolen
The American Society of Rio de Janeiro has a long and distinguished existence, founded in 1917 as the planet was in the midst of the terrible conflagration of World War I and American soldiers were being sent to France. A group of American women in Rio got together to make bandages for the war effort; their husbands decided that the American community in this far-flung outpost needed a full-fledged organization to support the wives' initiative and maintain the American community united in a foreign city.
Over the ensuing decades, the host city of Rio de Janeiro has undergone considerable change. Although it was the capital of Brazil at the time, Rio still was something of a backwater in world terms until the 1930s. Then it was to burst onto the world scene, one of a handful of vibrant world capitals. Suddenly, everybody was "Flying Down To Rio."
Juan Gutierrez - Jardim Botanico
During the first 50 years of its existence, The American Society was in many ways, as the 50th anniversary Yearbook put it, "the unofficial arm of American foreign policy in Brazil."
The late Rev. Wallace Williams — the AS president who presided over the 50th anniversary gala dinner-dance at the U.S. Embassy residency together with Ambassador John Tuthill — recalled a few years ago that "the president of The Society in those days was considered to be almost as important as the Ambassador himself. It was a very big deal."
Juan Gutierrez - OUteiro da glória
During its first five decades, the president of The American Society of Rio de Janeiro was usually one of the top American businessmen in the community and Board members were usually of the same executive ilk. The Society pursued the mandate set out in the by-laws: promoting good relations with Brazilians, celebrating American holidays, involvement in local charitable work, assisting American in distress, pursuing an active social program. More recently, the makeup of the Board has reflected a more diversified mix representing the Americans present in Rio de Janeiro in the first decade of the new millennium.
Juan Gutierrez - copacabana
In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, The Society congregated upwards of 800 American families and individuals of other nationalities who supported its goals. The sparse oral and written histories of the organization cite some major personalities who were responsible in the early decades for growing The Society into Rio's major foreign community organization: Amb. Edwin V. Morgan, who headed the U.S. diplomatic mission to Brazil from 1912 to 1933 and was a great backer of The Society; Dr. Hugh Clarence Tucker, a charismatic Methodist missionary in Brazil, one of the stalwarts for several decades; Joe Brown and Jim McLean, dedicated servers of the cause; and more recently but no less importantly, Luz Wright, who was the Society's tireless secretary in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
The Society has had over 80 individuals serve as it president during its existence. Perhaps the one who is most remembered today, because of the founding of the prestigious community award in his name, is Ralph Greenberg, who suffered a fatal accident on his way to a board meeting he was to preside. The list of Greenberg award winners is a Who's Who of distinguished private Americans who have lived and served selflessly in Rio de Janeiro.
Juan Gutierrez - avenida pasteur
The first woman — Kem Barbosa — only was elected to the presidency in 1986, 69 years after The Society was founded because of the work of American women. But since then, another five women have served as chief executive.
As it makes its way in the 21st century, The American Society of Rio de Janeiro has demonstrated, through good times and bad, constant and faithful respect to its founder's ideals, holding high the U.S. flag while promoting American ideals. It continues to be one of the most outstanding examples of a foreign community organization in Rio de Janeiro — or the world, for that matter.