by Carmen Barroso
I first met Adrienne when she went to Brazil in 1974 as a young Ford Foundation program officer.
I knew right away that she was different from anybody I had met before. She had the usual professional demeanor, exuding competence and seriousness of purpose, and a razor-sharp focus on the task at hand. But she had something else: a combination of purposeful objectivity with warm empathy that almost did not seem to go together.
She was traveling to assess the potential for supporting women’s rights efforts in the country. I had just got a PhD in social psychology at Columbia University and had gone back to my job as a researcher at the Educational Research Department of the Chagas Foundation. Both that department and my studies abroad had generously been supported by Ford and I was familiar with a few people working at headquarters in New York and at their office in Rio. Our relationship was respectful and cordial but not without problems.
There was always some awkwardness partially due to the power imbalance of our financial dependency on their grants, but also mostly due to the shadow looming over Ford’s image tainted by real or imagined CIA links. We did not have access to information to confirm or dismiss that image, but we felt confident that the grant contracts we accepted were not in any way determining the paths of our work. Still, it was obvious that, by being associated with them, we were risking the trust we got in our field. And paradoxically it also gave us the prestige of a “seal of approval” of a foreign organization.
Brazil was under a dictatorship and fear of falling in the hands of the brutal political police was widespread. Even small groups doing benign activities such as consciousness raising exercised careful scrutiny of participants and avoided recordings that could be used as evidence of dissent. Infiltrators and informants seemed to be everywhere.
Adrienne was very transparent about her role and objectives, but her probing questions touched subjects we were not used to discuss even among ourselves, much less with somebody in her position.
Her commitment to the same values we espoused was so clear even a woman blinded by fear could see it. We quickly learned to trust her. We got used to her uncomfortable questions and realized they made us deepen our understanding of our own motivations and strategies.
In the following almost 50 years since then she remained deeply engaged in the same causes and I had the privilege of keeping in touch with her in one way or another. There were periods when we worked closely together, others in more distant ways. There were moments we fully agreed, others we couldn’t. My respect and admiration for her unique qualities and her great achievements have always grown.
Today I join her numerous admirers in celebrating a life well lived and a death on her own terms.