Bradley University  ::Attending Bradley :: Apply Online :: Student Life :: Our Community :: Visit Us :: A to Z :: Search :: Home

Bradley Hilltopics

Summer 2009 • Volume 15, Issue 3  

Alumni Profiles

Forties fellowship group | JOAN SCOTT WALLACE ’52: From academia to ambassador | Brush with the past: JERRY VALLEZ 50 and DON HOLTON 70  | MIKE BETZ ’87 and DAVID NICOLL ’93 team up for the environment at Cat | Obama campaign link — JEFF LINK ’05 | U of I business dean LARRY DeBROCK ’75 | Molly Picon actors on stage | Singer JENNIFER ROSA ’06

Photo by Duane Zehr.

From academia to ambassador

By Nancy Ridgeway

“When opportunity knocks, you have to put your foot in the door,” JOAN SCOTT WALLACE ’52 told students during a lecture on April 16. Wallace, who served under four presidents in roles ranging from assistant secretary of agriculture to ambassador, returned to campus for the annual Garrett Week observance.

Wallace, salutatorian of her class at Englewood High School in Chicago, accepted a scholarship from Bradley. She remembers just a handful of African-Americans, only one of whom was another woman, on campus. However, she fit into campus life and was elected president of Sisson House, her dormitory, twice. “I came charging onto Bradley’s campus. I had a great time,” Wallace said.

She didn’t encounter prejudice at Bradley, but off campus the only place she could eat was at a local drugstore. “I could eat in the dorm, but the cafeteria closed on Sundays,” Wallace remembers, noting she would then eat at friends’ homes.

Wallace majored in sociology at Bradley and graduated with honors. She later earned master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia and Northwestern. She fondly remembers her mentor, Dr. Romeo B. Garrett, Bradley’s legendary sociology professor who was an inspiration to the black community and beyond.

Calling herself a trailblazer, Wallace built an accomplished career in academia and then in government. She served as a professor or an administrator at the University of Illinois, Howard University, Western Michigan, and Morgan State. In 1977, she became the first African-American assistant secretary of agriculture. She submitted her resume during a general talent search for positions within the Carter administration, not expecting to be called. When she received a call requesting an interview with the secretary of agriculture’s office, Wallace was asked if she would like to come in at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. “I said 2 p.m. with the idea that I didn’t know anything about agriculture and wanted to learn what I could. I didn’t know a soybean from sorghum.”

She proved herself quite capable and accepted more responsibilities as her career grew under three more presidents. During the Reagan years, she worked in 52 countries, providing technical assistance and training to developing countries; leading U.S. delegations to international and United Nations meetings; facilitating agri-business in the Caribbean basin; and more. Under George H.W. Bush, she served as a representative (ambassador rank) in Trinidad and Tobago. Wallace returned to Washington during the Clinton administration, managing the International Cooperation and Development Agency. She retired from government work in 1993.

Wallace encouraged students to believe in themselves and to promote themselves, not wait for someone to notice them. “When opportunity knocks and you’ve put your foot in the door,” Wallace said, “hold the door open for your brother and your sister behind you.”

A Bradley Centurion and recipient of the 1978 Distinguished Alumnus Award, Wallace and her husband John live in Flossmoor. They have three sons.