Bellamy, Carol

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Carol Bellamy

Carol Bellamy (born 1942) has been the executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) since 1995, and is credited with modernizing and strengthening the organization—one of the United Nations largest. A familiar person in the New York City political scene in the 1970s and 1980s, Bellamy's liberalism often clashed with the predominant political conservatism of the times. Although Republican Edward Koch defeated her in the 1985 race for New York City mayor, Bellamy reemerged into public service in 1990 to lead the Peace Corps, for which she had volunteered earlier. She has been praised for modernizing UNICEF and increasing its efficiency in the new priorities she has defined for the organization: the survival, development, and education of even the most severely disadvantaged children around the world. Bellamy's second term as UNICEF executive director expires in 2005; she has announced she will leave the position at that time.

Early Life

Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, on January 14, 1942, Bellamy was the daughter of a telephone installer and a maternity ward nurse, both political conservatives. She and her younger brother grew up in nearby Scotch Plains, New Jersey in a modest home on two acres. In her teen years, Bellamy participated in the choir, played several sports, and appeared in student theatrical productions at Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School, from which she graduated in 1959. She was accepted to Gettysburg College in neighboring Pennsylvania, earning a double degree in psychology and sociology in 1963 and becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Following her graduation, Bellamy struck out on her own to establish her independence and see some of the world. Deciding that the Peace Corps would be a good avenue for these goals, she joined the humanitarian group and was soon assigned to a jungle region of Guatemala. Her job was to raise chickens to encourage the indigenous people to eat eggs to get more high–quality protein. She also ran a school lunch program and hosted "The Housewife's Hour" daily radio show, a Spanish–language program that offered advice on nutrition and health issues. Bellamy's work in the little Guatemalan village would have a profound impact on the budding activist by giving her first–hand experience of global efforts to help children in developing countries lead healthier, better lives.

Peace Corps Lead to Political Ambition

When her tour of duty was finished in 1965, Bellamy decided that she wanted to go into politics at some point in her career. Her experience in the Peace Corps led her to believe she could do a better job running the government. However, she realized that she would need credentials in order to be taken seriously, and so Bellamy enrolled as a student at the New York University School of Law. She put herself through school by working as a switchboard operator and waitress, and earned her law degree in 1968. Soon after, she accepted a position as an associate at the prestigious law firm of Cravath, Swain & Moore in New York City. She was also a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

As the Vietnam War continued and protest against it rose, Bellamy began to show the talent for activism that would mark her career. She co–founded and served as the first president of the Lawyers' Committee to End the War. The committee's goal was to provide free legal defense for people who had been arrested for antiwar protesting. Bellamy was also integral in creating the Council of New York Law Associates as a training ground for new lawyers to learn public policy in exchange for volunteering their services to civic groups.

Bellamy accepted an appointment from New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay in 1971 as assistant commissioner in the state Department of Mental Health. However, she found the organization's bureaucracy too tangled to sort out, and resigned from the post the following year. After stepping down, Bellamy launched her first political campaign and announced her candidacy for the state senate as a Democratic representative of Brooklyn, winning the primary by 323 votes and then just as narrowly winning in the general election of 1972. Despite other politicians' efforts to thwart her by redrawing the district's boundaries, Bellamy ran again from another district in 1974 and this time defeated a longtime incumbent.

Political Victories Piled Up

During her second term in the New York state senate, Bellamy decided to throw in her hat for president of the New York City Council, although four Democratic men, some of them experienced, veteran politicians, had already announced their candidacies for the post as well. However, she managed to win the endorsement of the city's three biggest newspapers and went on to win the majority of votes. After a runoff due to the number of Democratic candidates, Bellamy garnered 60 percent of the final vote and went on to beat the Republican candidate by a large margin. Her victory in the 1978 election made Bellamy the first woman ever to serve as president of the New York City Council.

Although in many respects the post is ceremonial, Bellamy and her staff published numerous reports that initiated improvements in the city's mental health, foster care, food stamp, and mass transit services. She also used the post to oppose Mayor Edward Koch aggressively, and unlike her predecessors refused to rubber stamp his plans without inquiring into spending policies and other administrative issues. Her main concerns during this period were care for the needy elderly, children, and mentally ill; improving women's work conditions and access to family planning resources; providing low–cost day care for working mothers; reducing teen pregnancies; and controlling health care costs. However, she and the mayor (both reelected in 1981) also forged an uneasy alliance on some issues, such as the city's need for a gay rights bill. During this period Bellamy accepted a seat on the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, raising a stir by initiating a policy of surprise visits to maintenance areas and looking closely at budget documents.

When Koch announced in 1982 that he would run for New York state governor, it appeared that Bellamy might, by decree of law, replace him as mayor if he won. However, Koch lost the primary and Bellamy never got that chance. Not one to leave matters to fate, Bellamy declared in 1985 that she would run against the popular mayor in the upcoming mayoral election, making her the first woman ever to do so. Yet despite her heavy campaigning, she made no inroads with voters and lost the election by a huge margin. Disappointed and somewhat aggrieved because she had to step down as City Council president in order to run for mayor, Bellamy finished her second term as Council president and stepped down on January 1, 1986.

Departure from Politics Short – Lived

In an effort to change her professional outlook completely, Bellamy immediately accepted a position as a principal with the New York–based investment firm Morgan Stanley & Company. For the next four years, she remained withdrawn from public life. However, Bellamy's desire to lead impelled her in 1990 to leave Morgan Stanley and enter the race for New York State comptroller against Republican incumbent Edward Regan. She believed he was doing a poor job, since the state's credit rating was at historic lows and residents had been saddled with almost $3 billion in additional taxes since 1988. She won the Democratic nomination, but then lost the election to Regan by a narrow margin.

Bellamy regrouped and soon took a new job as managing director of the public finance department with the investment firm Bear Stearns Companies. In 1993, another disappointment came her way when, after Regan's resignation, she decided to try again for the comptroller position. Bellamy tried to persuade the authorities that since she had won 49 percent of the vote in the 1990 election, she should be given the post, but the governor instead appointed a man who became the first African–American to hold statewide office in New York. The legislature voted him in, but Bellamy declared she would try again in 1994.

Bellamy's prospects for public service improved considerably when President Bill Clinton contacted her in July 1993 to offer her a choice of working as deputy secretary of transportation in his administration or as director of the Peace Corps. She chose the latter, and in doing so became the first former Peace Corps volunteer ever to lead the organization since its creation in 1961. When she took office, Bellamy became the director of about 7,000 volunteers in more than 80 countries.

Directorship Led to UNICEF Job

After leading the Peace Corps successfully, Bellamy accepted a new position, this time as executive director of UNICEF beginning on May 1, 1995. She had beaten several European candidates with impressive credentials. By this point in its long history, UNICEF—a leading force in international humanitarian efforts to reduce malnutrition, poverty, and disease—was experiencing low morale, management trouble, and poor audits. Scandals, financial and otherwise, were common. Bellamy took on the gargantuan tasks of restructuring and decentralizing UNICEF to trim its inefficiency, in addition to addressing the changing focus of the organization from ensuring children's survival to a more contemporary concern: defending their right to be safe from sexual exploitation, dangerous work, armed conflicts, and other hazards such as HIV and AIDS.

By 1999, when the U.N. (United Nations) secretary–general appointed her to another five–year term, Bellamy had shifted the emphasis of UNICEF efforts to education in order to reduce alarming increases in religion–based violence to women and its negative affects on the world's children. In 2001, Bellamy and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Jr. met in Boane, Mozambique, to kick off the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, a collaboration of major pharmaceutical companies, UNICEF, and the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. They helped distribute 1.3 million doses of vaccine to prevent pertussis, polio, tetanus, and hepatitis B. Bellamy served as chairperson of the alliance until mid–2003.

In November 2004, Bellamy told Discover magazine, "I don't think do–gooder organizations need to be any less well run than the private sector." She revealed that the most important personal trait she relies on in her work is honesty, saying, "Whether people agree or disagree, that at least they feel there is an element of fairness is very important." Another insight into the motivation Bellamy feels to help people came from her mother. Bellamy told ABC News in 2004 that her mother believed, "If you just cut down in the skin in a human being, just a little bit, no matter who they are, they all look the same."

An early riser whose alarm clock goes off at 4 am, Bellamy is not married and has no children. She is passionate about her work and is driven to the point that she prefers not to take vacations. She does enjoy baseball (favoring the New York Mets), gardening, and hiking, however, and occasionally explores new trails. The director also travels to 30 or 40 emergencies and conflicts every year, ranging from famine in Ethiopia and child slavery in India to children in Uganda forced into soldiering. Her second term as UNICEF leader expires in 2005, when she has announced she will step down from the post. Bellamy delivered her tenth annual State of the World's Children report on December 10, 2004 at the London School of Economics.


"Biographical Information," UNICEF,–10838.html (November 29, 2004).

"Biography of Carol Bellamy," United Nations,–bio.html (November 29, 2004).

"Carol Bellamy," EuropaWorld, (November 29, 2004).

"Carol Bellamy to Launch UNICEF Flagship Report," London School of Economics Press and Information Office Archives,–toLaunchUNICEFReport.htm (January 4, 2005).

"Guide to the Carol Bellamy Papers 1977–1985," New York University: Fales Library & Special Collections,;=/saxon01f2002.xsl∂=body (November 29, 2004).

"Person of the Week: Carol Bellamy," ABC News Online, (November 29, 2004).

"Public Health: Carol Bellamy," Discover Online, (November 29, 2004).