Jesse Thyne

Mr. Thyne introduced the Peace Corps staff who spoke at his son, Jesse's funeral.

In this awful week, the Peace Corps has been remarkable with us. The motto of the Peace Corps is "the hardest job you'll ever love." Surely this is the hardest job they ever do. We would like you to hear from them.


Charles Bukkett was a Peace Corps volunteer. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia, and he is currently deputy director of the Peace Corps in Washington D.C. These are the words he spoke at Jesse's funeral:

"Mr. and Mrs. Thyne, Shannon, Brendan, Michelle, Family and friends of Jesse Thyne: On behalf of the 7,000 Americans who are serving as Peace Corps volunteers around the world, I am here today to convey our deepest sympathies to all of you who loved Jesse as a family member, for who he was as a person and for what he accomplished in his life. I know that I speak for everyone at the Peace Corps, especially those who are now serving as Peace Corps volunteers and those who have served over the last 35 years in saying that we are profoundly saddened by Jesse's tragic death. Nothing affects the Peace Corps more than the passing of a volunteer who's making an enormous difference in the lives of other people. I hope that you will accept our most heartfelt sympathies at this most difficult time.

In the spring before his graduation in April, I met Jesse briefly in Santa Cruz. I was on a recruiting trip and the chancellor had prepared a reception for me, at which we had also included volunteers and prospective volunteers who had received their assignment or were some way in process. And I had a chance to talk to these young people, which is always a very invigorating experience for me. And so I am honored that the Thyne family has allowed me to say a few words about Jesse and his service as a Peace Corps volunteer in the African nation of Guinea.

To serve as a Peace Corps volunteer demands that you are a special person. It requires courage, a strong mind, and a caring heart. But perhaps most of all, the Peace Corps is an experience for people who are motivated by a spirit for service, a passion for helping others, especially those less fortunate who live in some of the world's poorest countries. As all of you here today know, Jesse possessed all of these traits. Indeed, Jesse demonstrated his commitment to service, his love of education, and his eager desire to help others long before he became a Peace Corps volunteer.

Let me share with you he told us in his motivation statement, why he wanted to join the Peace Corps. "Teaching math has been a passion of mine since I started high school," he wrote. "I started out by helping my friends get through geometry and trigonometry. By the time I had gotten to pre-calculus, I had begun getting offers from my friends' parents asking me if I would teach their other children algebra, pre-algebra, and even multiply and divide and other math skills. Soon even friends of my friends' parents were asking me to tutor their kids in math. I worked with some students for a long time and some on a temporary basis. Some for money and because I had time on my hands, and wanted to do a favor for a friend. I loved it."

"Over the summer of 1997," Jess continued, "I had a realization. I decided that I would love to try to teach in another country, in a place where I felt that I was going to be respected and appreciated for my passion and enthusiasm as a teacher. I decided that the Peace Corp sounded like the best option for me. I am again excited with the prospect of being a teacher. I feel that I am ready to go out into the world and make a difference in the lives of students where I go."

These words convey the essence of what it means to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer and I can assure you that Jess reached his goal. He made an enormous difference in the lives of his students in the small village of Jontu. He was an outstanding teacher. He earned the love, respect and trust of his students and those whose lives he touched. He was a leader who won the admiration and friendship of the people of his village in Guinea, of his fellow Peace Corps volunteers, and of the staff that served with him. They will miss him and will always remember him.

But like many Peace Corps volunteers, Jess did much more than was expected of him. He immersed himself in the culture of his community of Guinea. He learned to speak Kular, the language of the people amongst who he lived and served. He broke bread with them, he learned their customs, and celebrated with them. Jesse established an English club to tutor students and community members alike. He contributed to a major Peace Corps education project about water in Africa. And recently, in collaboration with some friends in this village, he drafted a proposal for a school renovation project aimed at building three rooms for a library, a reading room, and a conference room. Last week Jess learned that his project had been funded by the Peace Corps' partnership program. The Peace Corps and Jesse's friends in Guinea are making plans to ensure that the school renovation project will be completed in his memory.

Jesse's fellow volunteers and the people he served in his village in Guinea share in the sorrow and sense of loss that we feel here today. Next Wednesday they will hold a memorial service to honor Jesse for his service, his leadership, and his friendship. Mr. and Mrs. Thyne, Shannon and Brendan, Michelle, we honor Jesse's service to our country and the people of Guinea. We honor his passion for lifting the hopes and dreams of other people and we honor each of you who molded a human into an extraordinary person. I thank you for allowing me to speak today. May God bless you. May God bless Jesse.


Kathy Tilsberg, the director of the Peace Corps in Guinea, the country in West Africa, where Jess was a volunteer also spoke at his funeral. "Good morning. I am speaking here this morning on behalf of a number of people who could not be here: first of all, the 97 other Peace Corps volunteers in Guinea who were friends with Jesse; the Peace Corps staff who really adored him; the government of Guinea, which charged me to speak on its behalf and who sent over several delegations last week to make sure I got the message; and the community of Juntu, where Jesse served as a volunteer. I think one of the first questions a family must ask itself when it loses a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister in Peace Corps service, did my child really make a difference? And was it worth it? And in Jesse's case I think the answer is a resounding "yes." He did make a measurable difference in lives and on many levels. And to illustrate this I would like to review briefly the three Peace Corps goals that Jesse committed himself to serve and to fulfil.

The overall mission of the Peace Corps is to promote world peace and understanding, which sounds very lofty and idealistic, but I truly believe as a former volunteer myself that the people to people approach to world peace is really the only approach and that is what Peace Corps is all about. The first goal of Peace Corps is to a promote better understanding of Americans among the people who volunteers serve. Many Guineans only know Americans through the movies and through radio, television and perhaps the international newspapers and magazines. And as you know, Hollywood and the international press don't always portray us in the most positive light. So the Guineans who knew Jesse had a much different and decidedly more positive view of Americans through their contact with them.

Jesse lived among them, he spoke their language, he learned their customs, and he taught their children. When we were looking at Juntu as a possible site for volunteers, we ran into an elected political official, who was rabidly anti-American. Nevertheless, we decided to throw Jesse into this lion's den. And he was the first volunteer in Juntu with a site mate. After knowing Jesse, this person changed his mind and became really one of Jesse's best friends and understood a little bit more about who Americans are and what we stand for. Along the lines again of this first goal of Peace Corps, the previous American ambassador to Guinea told every new group of volunteers, "You are the real ambassador here. I have the title, but you have the work. You will meet and interact with many more Guineans than I ever will and their view of Americans will be shaped by you."

So I would conclude in terms of the first goal of the Peace Corps is that Jesse was an excellent ambassador. The second goal of the Peace Corps is to help Americans learn more about the rest of the world and its people--to open up our minds to different world views and different ways of doing things. For many Americans, Africa is still an unknown continent, and I would venture to say that few Americans could find Guinea on the map. But those of you who knew Jesse will never look at Africa the same way again. And those of you who visited him there, his parents and Michelle, have an entirely different view, I think, of African life and African culture. You learned about people and places which were important to him, you met his friends, you understand that a Christian can live in a Muslim community and be accepted and have good friends.

The third goal of Peace Corps is to provide technical assistance to provide economic and social development. As you heard, Jesse was a dedicated math teacher. He worked very hard to motivate his students. He paid particular attention to his girl students, who are really marginalized in the Guinea school system as in many school systems in Africa. He didn't confine his assistance, however, to the classroom. As Ambassador Bukkett told you, he was involved in many extracurricular activities, including a school renovation project. I learned yesterday and I shared this with his family that the government decided to rename the school in his town in this honor. I think this would be a really lasting tribute to Jesse.

If you look at the three goals of the Peace Corps, we can conclude that Jesse was an excellent volunteer during his year and a half there. But I really think that the full measure of his impact on people we might not see for another fifteen to twenty years. You might find that an unusual statement, but as a Peace Corps director in Guinea, I am often approached by ministers, Guinean diplomats, doctors, school principals and they come up and say, "I had a Peace Corps teacher named John Smith or Jane Doe 36 years ago and I would like to get a hold of my teacher and tell him or her how much he meant to me." And I think that many volunteers don't realize the impact they are having on a daily basis in the lives of their students and their colleagues. And predict perhaps that the first woman to be elected President in Guinea or perhaps the next Secretary General of the United Nations who is a Guinean, or perhaps someone who makes a medical breakthrough 15 or 20 years from now will be a Guinean. And that person will say, "Twenty years ago I had a Peace Corps teacher named Jesse Thyne. And that person encouraged me to stay in school. He made me believe that I could do whatever I set out to do and he helped me realize my dream. So I would that Jesse did and will continue to have a positive impact on his Guinean friends, his students, and the American community in Guinea. They will miss his irrepressible good humor, his occasional irreverence, some of which was directed at me, his many kindness', and truly his joie de vivre.

We will resolve to continue his work first with the school renovation project and then through the Jesse Thyne Memorial Fund, which has been set up to continue his work in Juntu, but most importantly by encouraging his students to stay in school and to make him proud of them. Thank you.


Page created on 7/15/2004 2:42:00 PM

Last edited 7/15/2004 2:42:00 PM

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