UN Stories, U.S. Voices: Ed Elmendorf

As UNA-USA commemorates the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate all our success than by spotlighting the remarkable work of our UNA-USA members. In this feature, we want to highlight a person whose history with the UN can be traced as far back as its inception. His name is Ed Elmendorf.

Ed served as President and CEO of UNA-USA about ten years ago, with a mandate to create an alliance between UNA-USA and the United Nations Foundation. However, his history with the UN dates much further back than that, and it begins with family. His father was a World Federalist during World War II and after the War. He heard about the Nuremberg Trials in family conversations about the need for action to avoid impunity for war crimes and end genocide. Perhaps because of his childhood, Ed decided to join the US Foreign Service in the early 1960s. He recalls telling State Department officials that he would like to have his first tour of duty within the United States. A few weeks later he received his initial assignment: at the U.S. Mission to the UN in New York.

After engagements on UN Economic and Social Affairs, Ed worked his way up to become personal assistant to the head of the U.S. Mission to the UN, our Ambassador to the UN, who was then former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.  Later Ed returned to work at the U.S. Mission on human rights and social issues. He served as the executive officer for the U.S. Delegation in the Third Committee of the General Assembly when the UN Human Rights Covenants were adopted. He also served as U.S. Representative in the UN NGO Committee, and as U.S. Representative on the committee on periodic reports on human rights, a subcommittee of the Human Rights Commission. This subcommittee served as predecessor for what has become the Universal Periodic Review of the human rights performance of countries around the world now carried out under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.

After spending over 35 years as a Foreign Service Officer and in the World Bank, Ed decided to return to his grassroots appreciation for the work of the UN by becoming an active volunteer with UNA-USA, specifically with the UNA National Capital Area Chapter in Washington, D.C. In his time as a volunteer, he has served as president of the chapter, and as member and then Chair of the UNA-USA Council of Chapters and Divisions – the national volunteer network that became the UNA-USA National Council. He served with such notables as Tom Pickering and John Whitehead on the national board of UNA-USA before becoming CEO. He succeeded in his mandate to create an alliance between UNA-USA and the UN Foundation, and thus played a central role in creating what UNA-USA has become today.

Outside of his career accomplishments, Ed considers himself a student of the United Nations. His quest for knowledge and passion to preserve and document the long and illustrious history of the UN Association, including – just to mention one example – the service of Eleanor Roosevelt as a volunteer, led Ed to promote and become Study Director for a history of UNA-USA. This later became the book: The UN Association of the USA: A Little Known History of Advocacy and Action. It is evident that throughout his adult life Ed has worked to maintain a close connection to the global work of the UN.

Asked why he continues to support the work of the UN after all these years, he responded that he simply cares very deeply about creating an organized international community. Ed challenges us to imagine a world without the UN – a world of chaos and disorder. He volunteers today and devotes so much time and energy to the UN because he recognizes the importance of connecting our global and local communities.

By glimpsing into his accomplished life, we see the impact the UN has had on individual Americans, both professionally and personally. On behalf of the entire UNA-USA team, we want to thank Ed for his steadfast commitment to bridging the work of the U.S. and the UN.


In a series called “UN Stories, U.S. Voices,” we will be finding opportunities throughout the year to highlight some of the amazing histories and connections UNA-USA members have to the UN to celebrate its 75th anniversary.