Council friends pay tribute to Dixie Anderson

Picture of Kevin Patterson

The past and present leadership of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan (WACWM) paid tribute to executive director emerita Dixie Anderson at a special event held at the University Club in downtown Grand Rapids.

Anderson retired at the end of 2017 after 22 years of service and while the Council expressed its appreciation at a November 2017 public event by giving her a lifetime achievement award, there had not yet been a final celebration event with her friends and friends of the Council.

In attendance was Bill Clifford, the President of the World Affairs Councils of America, traveling from the national office in Washington, D.C. WACWM is one of 90 councils that exist around the country.

Also attending was Dr. Frederic Pearson, a professor at Wayne State University and also the director of the Detroit Council for World Affairs.

Other former Council presidents, board members, donors, speakers and friends joined in the celebration.

Current director Michael Van Denend expressed deep appreciation for Anderson’s leadership and mentorship, noting that any time one follows a person who is well-known by just their first name—“Dixie”—it underscores the mark left by that leader in the community.

Council Board president Craig Meurlin of Warner Norcross and Judd said that when Anderson came to the Council in 1995, she had no staff to work with and was technically a part-time employee.

“But Dixie had a vision of something much more,” he said. “An organization that would become a global education powerhouse serving the West Michigan community.”

Meurlin noted that Anderson had to be the master of many skills to build the organization.

“Dixie was our everything of programming, responsible for everything from getting speakers, to squiring them around the town when they were here, to making seating arrangements, and making certain the napkins were aligned properly at lunches and dinners,” he said. “Our everything of fund raising and development, to fund those speakers. Our everything of sales and marketing, to build the brand of our Council and to sell seats.”

He also recognized that Anderson leaves a legacy of getting world-noted speakers to Grand Rapids, further enhancing the Council’s reputation.

For example, Anderson’s leadership includes appearances by Ehud Barak of Israel, Perez Musharraf of Pakistan, Lech Walesa of Poland and Vicente Fox, the former President of Mexico. In 2003, the Council hosted Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an event that had to be held in the Van Andel Arena with more than 5,000 people in attendance—still a record for any World Affairs Council event in the country. And in 2007, the White House called and asked if the Council would host President George W. Bush to make a major Mideast foreign policy speech, wanting a non-partisan platform such as the Council to have the speech.

Anderson garnered the World Affairs Councils of America “Best Small Council in the Country” honor in 2002 and in 2016, won the Foreign Policy Association Medal, which recognizes individuals who demonstrate responsible internationalism and work to expand public knowledge of international affairs.

Steve Walter, Anderson’s first board president in 1995-1996, wrote the following: “Thank you, Dixie, for your thoughtful leadership, your tireless energy, your belief in possibility and above all for the years of heart you have given to this worthy beam of light in today's world. Despite the rest you have earned, please don't retire from the world, Dixie, but rather into it—it still needs you.”

Slide show of Dixie's career highlights