International House Times Online Spring 2002: Edith Simon Coliver Remembered
the international house times online
Edith Simon Coliver Remembered
Edith S. Coliver
Edith Simon Coliver, I-House resident from 1940-'43, at the 1999 Celebration and Awards Dinner. Mrs. Coliver was honored as International House Alumna of the Year for her lifelong commitment to human rights.
Edith Simon Coliver, I-House resident from 1940-'43, at the 1999 Celebration and Awards Dinner. Mrs. Coliver was honored as International House Alumna of the Year for her lifelong commitment to human rights.

Edith Simon Coliver, whose friends described her as a world citizen and a militant friend of peace with a passion for justice, died December 27, 2001. Throughout her remarkable life, she urged and inspired people not only to examine their convictions, but also to act on them.

Coliver's family fled Europe in 1938 and settled in San Francisco. Soon she was pursuing a degree in international relations and languages while living at International House. At an I-House program last year, she recalled, "I arrived at I-House in the fall of 1940, as a freshman foreign student, a German Jewish refugee from the Holocaust. At first, I was overwhelmed by all those sophisticated graduate student residents. Some of them became lifelong friends."

After working as a translator at the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco, she returned to Germany to serve as an interpreter and research analyst at the Nuremberg trials where she translated the pretrial testimony of Nazi officer, Hermann Goering. "He was not particularly thrilled to see a woman, a Jewish woman, as his interpreter," she told a journalist for the Jewish Bulletin.

In 1947, Edith married Norman Coliver. They had two daughters, Susan and Sandra. Sandra Coliver recalled that her mother developed a sense of outrage over injustice and a passion for human rights as a result of her experience at Nuremberg.

Coliver's opportunity to work for human rights came in the course of a 40-year career with the Asia Foundation, a private organization that administers social, political, and economic development programs in twenty-four countries. She was selected as the first woman Field Office Director for the Foundation and was posted to the Philippines where she arranged crucial support for democracy and human rights activists who contributed to the defeat of the Marcos regime.

In 1988, Coliver moved to Taipei where she directed the Foundation's Taiwan, Province of China office until her retirement in 1992. Coliver's gracious homes in San Francisco, Manila, and Taipei were well-known intellectual gathering spots for an eclectic mix of friends including world leaders, authors, jurists, and social reformers from around the world.

Ernest Weiner, a friend for nearly 40 years, recalled, "Edith was one of the most adaptable people I know. She was able to pick up languages so rapidly that she could engage people with exactly the right natural accents and, more importantly, the idioms." She was fluent in German, French, and Spanish, and conversant in Tagalog, Portuguese, and Mandarin.

After retiring and returning to San Francisco, Coliver re-connected with International House and became an active volunteer, serving as a member of the International House Board of Directors and chair of the Program Committee. She often said that I-House represented one of her most formative experiences.

Coliver was honored as International House 1999 Alumna of the Year. Executive Director Joe Lurie said, "Edith was a person who made a real difference in the world by quietly and respectfully bringing people together. We're very fortunate that she shared her experiences with the I-House community. She truly was a citizen of the world."

She once said that life had rewarded her with the chance to do what she had always wanted to do. "I've worked with different cultures, but the principles and values have always been the same," she said. "I have just tried to prevent oppression and expose hypocrisy."

Coliver was a founding member of the Women's Interfaith Dialog on the Middle East, a group of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish women who discuss issues relevant to their faith. Coliver was also active in the World Affairs Council of Northern California, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, the New Israel Fund, the Commonwealth Club of California, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, and many other organizations.

A memorial fund in tribute to Edith is being established at International House.
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