ALBERT SAMUEL “BERT” FRALEIGH, a retired USAID field officer, died January 10, 2014. He was 93.
Fraleigh was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1920. After graduating in sciences and civil engineering from the University of Alaska, he served as a civilian with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, became a U.S. citizen in 1943 and joined the U.S. Navy in World War II. After the war, he served the United Nations relief program in China, where he organized the evacuation of critical materiel from Shanghai to Taiwan, an act for which he received the Economic Cooperation Administration’s highest award. After the communist takeover he was detained in China and harshly interrogated for several months. He was released through the personal intercession of the Chinese foreign minister, Cho En-lai.
A fluent writer and speaker of Chinese, Bert worked for the Asia Foundation for a year before joining the foreign assistance mission in Taiwan in 1952, where he helped resettle thousands of mustered-out Chinese soldiers, and eventually served as the personal advisor to Taiwan’s future president. In 1957 he was named one of the ten outstanding young men in federal service.
Fraleigh subsequently rose to senior field positions in American assistance programs in Laos and South Vietnam, where he became legendary for helping local farmers earn more money by raising pigs, corn and soybeans than they could raining traditional rice. If some farmers were skeptical of the new practices, Bert introduced them to a USAID-backed “miracle rice”, which grew faster and increased yields. Rufus Phillips, head of USAID’s Office of Rural Affairs in Vietnam, later wrote that, as his deputy, “Bert had a ‘can-do’ attitude without a bureaucratic mindset. He was direct, full of enthusiasm, down-to-earth and obviously knew how to work with Asians.”
Fraleigh recalled that when he first arrived in Vietnam AID’s staff numbered 103, with all but three of them living in the capital city. Fraleigh used insights into foreign aid practices to shape an unconventional program. In 1962 Rural Affairs turned the traditional headquarters-oriented AID effort on its head, sending teams of young civilians, many volunteers on contract, to live and work in the provinces under sparse and sometimes dangerous circumstances. Two years later a new AID administrator in Saigon suddenly killed the program and fired many of its staff.
Following his service in Vietnam, Bert served as an original faculty member at the Vietnam Training Center in Arlington, Virginia, an interagency facility which prepared civilian and military officers to serve with America’s pacification program. The revolutionary agricultural techniques he taught them helped quell the appeal of the South Vietnamese communists in rural areas. Often a thorn in the side of desk-bound Saigon bureaucrats, Fraleigh later wrote: “We would have prevailed in Vietnam if the bureaucracy would have allowed it.” He later had special assignments in the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia, and Okinawa.
After leaving federal service in 1976, Fraleigh ran companies in Singapore, Taiwan, Hawaii and Seattle. He also taught international business as a visiting professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, earning his doctorate there, finally retiring to Sequim, Washington, where he competed in many senior track and tennis competitions. He is survived by his wife of many years, the former Jean Liu, a noted Chinese artist and art collector.