Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Catherine O'Neill, 70, an Advocate for Refugees

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Catherine O'Neill, 70, an Advocate for Refugees

Article excerpt

Ms. O'Neill co-founded the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children after visiting refugee camps and believing that an agency was needed to advocate for displaced women and families.

Catherine O'Neill, whose travels with the International Rescue Committee to refugee camps led her, along with the actress Liv Ullmann and others, to found the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, died on Dec. 26 in Los Angeles. She was 70. The cause was complications of cancer, said her husband, the writer Richard Reeves.

Ms. O'Neill, who served on the board of the rescue committee, an aid organization that responds to humanitarian crises, had a professional career that included stops in the private, public and charitable sectors. In the 1970s, she ran for the State Senate in California and for secretary of state, and she was the finance director for Governor Jerry Brown's 1976 presidential campaign.

Ms. O'Neill was the first chairwoman of the commission for women and children, now known as the Women's Refugee Commission. It was founded in 1989 after she, Ms. Ullmann and others visited camps in Pakistan, Thailand and elsewhere and found -- especially in places where war had driven people from their homes -- that a special agency was needed, under the umbrella of the International Rescue Committee, to advocate for displaced women and families.

In many camps, they saw that "the system was run by men and geared to caring for the men," Mr. Reeves said, adding, "Young men of fighting age were fed first, then the boy children, because they'd be fighters in the future. …

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