2007 Award – George Elsey ’39

At the first Princeton Club of Orange County Annual Dinner and Tiger Tribute in October 2007, the PCOC recognized George McKee Elsey ’39, former Senior White House Advisor and retired President of the American Red Cross as the 2007 “In the Nation’s Service” Award recipient.

The 2007 recipient, George Elsey, was a small-town kid from western Pennsylvania who graduated from Princeton in 1939 and received an A.M. from Harvard one year later. At the age of 24, Elsey was assigned to Franklin Roosevelt’s top-secret intelligence and communications center in the White House.

As an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Elsey helped brief the president and his senior associates on war events. He and his map room colleagues acted as the secretariat for Roosevelt’s cabled exchanges with Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek; filed records of “summit conferences”; and stored in safes plans for future operations.

Elsey’s duties continued with Harry Truman’s succession to the presidency. In 1947, he shed his Naval Reserve uniform and joined the White House’s civilian staff as assistant to the special counsel to the president. In 1949, he became administrative assistant to the president, and, in 1952, he became a member of the Mutual Security Agency staff.

Elsey later became the Vice President of the American Red Cross and in 1970 became its President, a position he held for 12 years. During his tenure, Red Cross income increased more than four-fold, and Elsey re-directed the agency’s principal activities from service to the armed forces to community-based programs of health, disaster relief and blood donation.

His memoir, “An Unplanned Life,” is a fascinating and invaluable read for anyone with an interest in history.