Richard Lee Duncan, PhD

AEA's International and Cross-Cultural Evaluation
Topical Interest Group

Remembering Richard Duncan

Mike Hendricks

Richard Duncan died a few weeks ago, and things will never be quite the same. Oh, it’s not that the
Earth has moved off its axis or the course of humanity has changed. Nothing that dramatic, but things
have changed nonetheless. For Richard was a unique character – 100% in a positive way – and he left
a big mark on the world, on evaluation, and on many of us in AEA, especially in the International and
Cross-Cultural TIG.

I was lucky enough to know Richard in several different ways. Professionally, we were each independent
consultants, so we occasionally got to work together on projects. I especially remember a little
evaluation for the Inter-American Foundation. I did the DC work, while Richard went to Central America
and conducted some interviews. Both before he went and after he came back, what struck me was how
absolutely passionate Richard was about finding out what was really happening on the ground, with the
people who were being directly affected. To him, it was all about the people.

Whether he developed that passion from his education at Antioch, North Carolina, or Syracuse or
through all his travels, I don’t know. But it was so special to work with someone for whom evaluation
wasn’t merely a professional exercise, but a practical tool for advancing the international development
he cared about so deeply. Richard once told me that a certain consulting firm called him “high risk, high
reward”, and I think I know what they meant. With Richard, you wouldn’t get a cookie-cutter approach
to an evaluation, but you might get something truly special.

One example might be some work he did in Pakistan. He was there working on an education project,
and he was having trouble getting the Pakistani officials to see the potential of the evaluation system he
was recommending. He eventually developed the idea to pretend it was five years in the future and the
evaluation system was already in place. The first chapter of Richard’s next report was the (hypothetical)
data from the new evaluation system, what it meant, and how it could be used. The clients loved it, and
immediately understood what Richard was trying to do.

Others in AEA also knew Richard well, from his work in not only our ICCE TIG but also the Independent
Consulting TIG. I’m told he helped to found our TIG, and I know he loved coming to AEA year after year.
I’m sure many of the tributes from others will reflect their times with him.

Richard was also a wonderful model of a true global citizen. I suspect if you asked him where he lived,
he might have answered “this wonderful world”. He first lived overseas when he was 26, and he kept
savoring the world for the next 60 years – early on as an employee of USAID, the Ford Foundation, or
the United Nations, later on during his many consulting projects. I have no idea how many countries
Richard visited or lived in, but I know his children were born in the USA, Costa Rica, Pakistan, and Cuba,
and I know he also lived in Venezuela and Brazil. His daughter says he had a “dream of getting to know
the world”, and few people I’ve met have succeeded at that so well.

Richard and I also shared a love of tennis, although he was by far a better player – he was a mainstay of
the US Navy tennis team for a while. Each of us was in love with Stefan Edberg’s serve-and-volley game,
but only Richard went to Wimbledon almost every year to watch it in person. I’ll always treasure the fun

we had watching the pro tour during its Washington, DC stop one year, and I think it’s more than karmic
that, when Richard died in New York City, the US Open was underway just across town.

One thing I wish I shared with Richard, but sadly I’m far inferior, is his burning, lifelong delight at learning
and experiencing new things. New things about evaluation, to be sure, but also new things about other
cultures, about music, about art, about people, about food. I remember a Brazilian restaurant in DC and
a small café outside of London, and each time Richard relished the thought of something new on the
menu. He was truly a sponge – always eager to learn and absorb something new.

Perhaps he was thinking about something new that day a few years ago when he was struck by a taxi
and almost killed. To be honest, many of us doubted he would recover. By then he was 87 and injured
very severely. But he fought with every bit of his indomitable spirit, and against all odds, he willed
himself to speak, walk, and once again attend concerts, plays, restaurants, and yes, the 2010 and 2011
US Opens. He wasn’t quite ready to stop living in “this wonderful world”.

But ultimately, his body simply wore out, two months after his 90th birthday. And even his manner of
passing was vintage Richard. Near the end, he was breathing with the help of a cumbersome mask that
insulated him from his loved ones, and that’s not how he wanted to go. So, with three generations of
his family and dear friends around, he squeezed the doctor’s hand and had his mask replaced with a
smaller oxygen tube. In that way, he left this life as he had lived it – soaking in the humanity of every
experience possible.

As his family puts it, Richard left a “legacy of love, joie de vivre, and passion for justice.” To me, it’s
more than coincidence that his memorial service in New York will be held on October 27, the closing day
of AEA ’12.

Richard, our friend, we will miss you.


The TIG co-chairs recently learned of the death of one of our TIG founders, Richard Duncan. We thought it fitting to use the TIG website to inform the rest of the membership and share some comments from those that knew Richard well. We will have a short tribute, including music, at our annual business meeting during the AEA conference in October. 

Below you can read a message and a biography shared by Richard's family. Scroll down further to find tributes from ICCE members on XCeval, ICCE's listserve.

If you wish to share your own tribute you can do so at the Duncan family's site at

Message from Richard’s family

From: Debbie Duncan
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 9:19 AM
Subject: From Richard Duncan's Family

Our father, Richard Duncan (also known as Dad, Dick, "Mac", Tennis Grandpa) slipped away from this life with very little warning around 8:30 pm on September 5th, 2 months after his 90th birthday.

He was surrounded by 3 generations of family, dear friends and caregivers, with phones calls and messages from other loved ones during the day. We have posted on the Caring Bridge Web site. Feel free to post in the Guestbook for family and friends to share. The messages we have received are deeply valued!

His struggle is over. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy of love, joie de vivre and passion for justice lives on in the hundreds of people who were touched by him.

We will be planning a Memorial Service and will notify you when details are set. We are grateful to each of you for the gifts of life, laughter, thought, work and love you brought to his life.

Laurie, Tony and Debbie

Richard Lee Duncan -- his life

Shared by daughter Debbie

Born in Sunnyside, WA, on July 5, 1922, Dick spent most of his formative years in Portland, OR.  He attended Antioch College in Ohio, where he was exposed to varied perspectives and learning styles and earned the moniker “Mac”.  His college education was interrupted by service in the Navy from 1944-46.  He completed midshipman school, married Eleanor Shultz and was deployed to the Pacific, where he served on a mine sweeper until the end of the war. Other critical duties kept him in Hawaii for several months, primarily as a key member of the US Navy tennis team. 

He completed his studies at Antioch, and pursuing his and Ellie’s dream of getting to know the world, he set off for Central America, finding work in Costa Rica in 1948, where Ellie joined him with 1 year old Laurie and pregnant with Debbie, born in 1949. He returned to the US obtaining a Masters in Latin American Affairs from the University of North Carolina -Chapel Hill when he was hired by the US Department of State foreign aid mission.  He was assigned to development projects in Karachi, Pakistan (1952-54), Havana, Cuba (1955-59), Mexico City, Mexico (1960-64). Kim was born in Karachi (1954) and Tony in Havana (1958). The family was always traveling and learning about the host country, absorbing and delighting in the diversity of culture, history and environment.  He left USAID to pursue his Ph.D. at Syracuse University in History, Anthropology and Political Science with a focus on Latin America. 

Now separated from Ellie, Dick worked with the Ford Foundation in Venezuela (1968) and then on a contractual basis with USAID in Brazil (Rio and Brasilia)  from 1969-1973 with new wife, Lucille Fitzmaurice.  Returning to New York City, he worked at the United Nations from 1976-1983. When his program was transferred to Geneva, He and Lucille decide to remain in NYC to be closer to family. Discouraged after over 2 years of job searching, he realized that he was able to earn as much on the consulting jobs that came his way, so he continued on that path through 2000, when he finally shifted into retirement at the age of 78. 

Retirement is relative, as he remained active in professional organizations like American Evaluation Association and the Society for International Development.  He served on boards, taught and mentored younger professionals. He travelled extensively, attending Wimbledon almost annually and exploring some of the few places he has not yet visited (China, New Zealand, etc) with his adored companion, Heidi Vajda. 

In April 2009 he was struck by a taxi while crossing a Manhattan street. Most people would not have survived, but at 87, Richard survived, fought strenuously to live, regain the ability to speak, move, walk, write. With tenacity, daily hard work and the support of friends and family, he was able to return to a still satisfying lifestyle, attending concerts, ballet, and in 2010 and  2011 the US Open.  Vulnerable to infections and afflicted with pulmonary fibrosis, he became ill in late August with a UTI and possible pneumonia. After a few rallies, it became apparent that his lungs were failing.  With family and friends at his bedside, on September 5, 2012, in a final act of self-determination and courage, he chose to remove the oxygen mask that sustained him.      

He will be sorely missed by those who knew and loved him, but his legacy of love, joie de vivre and passion for justice lives on in the hundreds of people who were touched by him.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, October 27 at 1:30 pm at the United Nations church center.

Messages on the XCeval list-serve

From: Jim Rugh

Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 9:31 AM 
To: XCeval
Subject: Re: [XCeval] FW: From Richard Duncan's Family 

Richard Duncan was one of the founders of AEA's International and Cross-Cultural Evaluation Topical Interest Group, and a well-appreciated contributor to many AEA sessions promoting cross-cultural international evaluations over the years.

Thus it is with personal sadness and grief that I share the following news with the rest of you on this XCEval listserv 

From: Mike Hendricks
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 9:37 AM
To: Jim Rugh
Subject: Re: [XCeval] FW: From Richard Duncan's Family

Yeah, this is sad.  I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago, then emailed him 2-3 days ago.  Richard was one of a kind, for sure.  I for one will miss his unique personality.

 Best,             Mike

From: Karen Russon
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 9:44 AM
To: Jim Rugh
Subject: Re: [XCeval] FW: From Richard Duncan's Family

Thank you for sharing this sad news, Jim.

In reading this to Craig, he said Richard was always one of his heroes.

I always enjoyed the lively discussions we had at AEA receptions. Richard's interesting stories conveyed his wealth of knowledge and passion for his work. He was truly inspirational.

His children said it beautifully, "He will be sorely missed, but his legacy of love, joie de vivre and passion for justice lives on in the hundreds of people who were touched by him."

We are just two of the many,
Karen and Craig

From: Scott CHAPLOWE
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 10:20 AM
To: Jim Rugh, Karen Russon, Craig Russon
Subject: RE: [XCeval] FW: From Richard Duncan's Family

Ditto on both of your sentiments. I remember Richard fondly, and had many a good discussions with him as I began to get my head around this field of international evaluation (and no, I do not claim to have my head “all around it” yet).

From: Tessie Catsambas
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 10:50 AM
To: Jim Rugh
Subject: RE: SPAM-MED: [XCeval] FW: From Richard Duncan's Family

I am so sorry, Jim. What an amazing man, professional, and friend to many. People like that stand up as beacons of ethical conduct and to all of us. 

He lives in the hearts of his family and friends (like you) as shown by the website.


From: Kate Spring (Co-Chair, ICCE-TIG 2000-2002)
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 11:23 AM
To: Jim Rugh,
CC: Debbie Duncan
Subject: Re: [XCeval] FW: From Richard Duncan's Family

Dear Jim

Richard was not too big for anyone. I remember him fondly as one who reached way down to support newcomers to the ICCE-TIG and to bring non-US evaluators along into a broader and richer evaluation experience.

We learn best from our experiences. I'm grateful to have had the privilege of knowing him and learning from him.


Kate Ababio Spring, UNAIDS Monitoring and Evaluation Adviser in Haiti.

From: John Maxwell Owen
Sent: Friday, September 07, 2012 7:07 PM
To: Jim Rugh
Subject: owen re richard duncan


 …  sorry to hear about Richard, we always had a chat at AES meetings, if you can send my condolences along with any others please do so.


 John Owen

From: Arnold Love 
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 9:29 AM
To: Jim Rugh; Mike Hendriicks
Subject: Richard Duncan

 Hi Jim and Mike --

 Those of us who knew Richard Duncan as a friend and colleague were saddened to learn that he recently left this life.

Richard was one of the early forces behind the AEA ICC TIG and a wise advisor to me and the other AEA committee members regarding IOCE development. 

I had the good fortune knowing Dick for many years. By coincidence, one of my cousins worked with him at World Learning and they shared a common friendship with the renowned economist and former US Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, who was a neighbour. Richard loved S. Asia as much as he loved Latin America. 

 I also was able to visit him every few years at his home in NYC. This included a memorable visit for his 80th birthday celebration shortly after 9/11. At a time when most of the world was still in shock and hesitant to travel, the rooms at the Asia Society were filled with his family and his "extended family" -- he always treated his friends as part of his loving and diverse family. 

I am not able to attend the AEA Conference, but I trust that you and his many AEA colleagues will celebrate his life at the TIG reception. He always loved to tell and hear stories from the villages and from his projects -- I hope that you will fill the room with stories and laughter as a fitting tribute to his life and his memory.