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WOLFENSOHN--Elaine. The Wolfensohn Family mourns the passing of Elaine Wolfensohn on August 19th, 2020. She was the beloved wife of James Wolfensohn, mother of Sara (Neil Mayle), Naomi (Jascha Preuss) and Adam (Jennifer Small), sister of Edward Botwinick (Victoria Brown) and grandmother of Benjamin, Samuel, Isabella, Natan, Ariella, Micah and Elijah. We are grateful to all those who have supported the family and reflected upon her wisdom, vitality, integrity, judgement, compassion, humor, loyalty and unassuming grace. We admire her life-long commitment to early childhood education, classical music, Israel, Jewish pluralism and gender and racial equality. Most of all, we are grateful for her lifelong and limitless commitment to her family. In lieu of flowers, we encourage donations in her memory to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty or to the food pantry of your choice.

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Published in New York Times on Aug. 26, 2020.
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November 27, 2020
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August 30, 2020
Elaine Wolfensohn

Elaine Wolfensohn was the Honorary President of the World Bank Family Network (WBFN), previously known as the World Bank Volunteer Services (WBVS), during James Wolfensohn’s tenure as the World Bank Group’s President from June 1995 to June 2005.

Elaine took her role as Honorary President very seriously. She became a firm believer in WBFN’s advocacy work on behalf of spouses and families of World Bank staff. She immersed herself in her new role, and dedicated time and guidance to their concerns and needs. She was instrumental in bringing to light, and to the President’s attention, difficult situations including domestic abuse of spouses. She then worked tirelessly to help WBFN get the resources and help to educate WBG spouses about their rights, and to influence policy changes to protect those [spouse] rights far into the future. She was deeply interested in securing solutions for the many issues that challenged the spouses and families of the World Bank.

She remained engaged in her role as mentor and counselor to WBFN leaders, supporting their work for spouses and championing their two charitable organizations, The Margaret McNamara Memorial Fund (now Margaret McNamara Educational Grant) and The Book Project. She participated in Executive Committee meetings and MMMF/MMEG Board meetings and fundraisers.

The worldwide WBVS/WBFN community has lost a very strong supporter.
Our deepest sympathy and condolences to her family.

The World Bank Family Network
Hada Zaidan
August 27, 2020
For the ten years that Jim Wolfensohn served as World Bank president, Elaine Wolfensohn became, beautifully, a sort of “first lady of the world.” She travelled absolutely everywhere with her husband – visiting close to 100 countries in ten years—and left admirers at every stop. While Jim was in formal meetings, Elaine would always set out with no fanfare to see the market, primary schools and health clinics, seeking to talk to as many women as she could, and to understand their lives, needs and aspirations. Fluent in French, in many countries Elaine could engage with people without translators. One thing impressed all of us about Elaine: whether she was speaking with the President of the country, an illiterate woman in the market, or a child at a school, she brought the same blend of curiosity, warmth and humility to every conversation. She never wanted to talk about herself; she always wanted to learn about a country and its people, their lives and their problems. Elaine had a rare blend of grace, intellect and kindness. None of us who travelled or worked with her ever saw her flustered or short-tempered, no matter how jet-lagged they were or how hot or dusty the setting.
In addition to her incredible contribution to the World Bank’s work and image globally, Elaine made time to connect with, learn from, advise and support countless World Bank staff, especially women, and especially those of us who worked on education. As an educator herself, she was a valuable source of insight into the education systems of the countries she visited. But even more, she was passionate about the World Bank “getting it right” in education and accelerating progress on education for all, especially girls. She was also ahead of the curve: at a time when the global development goals were focused on getting all kids into school, she was focused on the need to ensure that children were learning.
So many of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with Elaine felt a huge void when Jim’s term ended. But we were able to keep in touch, and she never failed to remember all of her “mentees” spouses’ and children’s names. It is a deeper, and unfillable, void now that she has left us. Au revoir, Elaine.
Barbara Bruns
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