On The Passing of Sandy Berger, A Devoted Humanitarian

Published December 2, 2015
Last Updated May 20, 2021

Today the world lost one of its most devoted and influential humanitarian champions. Samuel R. Berger—or Sandy for those of us who were lucky enough to know him—died this morning at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 70 years old.

Those who suffer from hunger, those in need around the world, directly benefited from the life of Sandy Berger. For much of his career, Sandy worked as a statesman dedicated to building peace. As National Security Advisor under President Bill Clinton, he played a pivotal part in shaping America’s role in the post-Cold War era. Through his efforts to build relations with China, manage financial crises in Asia and Latin America, and drive critical peace negotiations in the Balkans and the Middle East, he was among the first on Capitol Hill to recognize the nexus between national security and food security. He understood that humanitarian assistance programs serve as stabilizing forces for a world in turmoil. Berger’s deep sense of humanity led him to craft U.S. foreign policies in benefit of the greater good.

This spirit of goodwill and generosity led Sandy to World Food Program USA in 2009, when he became our Board Treasurer and Secretary. Here, Sandy utilized decades of experience in the White House and Washington, D.C., fighting for smarter U.S. programs to assist the world’s hungry. As a visionary on foreign policy issues, Berger led WFP USA’s efforts to explore and identify the roots of food insecurity and its effects on U.S. security and governance.

His expertise arrived at a critical time of global instability and conflict. Long before coverage of refugee flows from wars around the world rose to public awareness, Sandy saw the emerging humanitarian crisis and began to rally policymakers. He launched our initiative to improve the international humanitarian response system, which brought together key humanitarian organizations around a common plan. His impact will stretch well beyond his years. While the humanitarian community grapples with unprecedented need, Sandy set forth a bold vision to confront this “new normal.”

A speechwriter by trade, Sandy rallied others to action with his insight and eloquence. Writing for Foreign Policy earlier this summer, Berger noted the incredibly high stakes of humanitarian relief in the face of a growing refugee crisis—and the even higher stakes of doing nothing. “The United States has done more than any other country to meet these global needs. Americans should feel good about that, but hardly satisfied,” he wrote. “We cannot choose not to see. We can only choose not to act.” It was a much-needed rallying cry for U.S. lawmakers and his fellow citizens.

Those who had the pleasure to know him felt inspired by Sandy’s lifelong dedication to communities and causes that can seem distant and easy to dismiss.

Shortly before his passing, World Food Program USA bestowed its first Global Humanitarian Award to Sandy for his decades of leadership helping the world’s most vulnerable families. We hope the next generation of leaders will be brave enough to continue Sandy’s fight.

For the millions of people worldwide whose lives have been made better by his actions, we know his legacy lives on.

     #                              #                                 #

Memorial contributions may be made to the Samuel R. Berger Humanitarian Fund.

Erin Cochran
Vice President, Communications
(C): (202) 510-6200
Email: ecochran@wfpusa.org