Sher Plunkett was born the son of Carlton and Virginia Plunkett of Fort Smith, Arkansas on October 13, 1938 and passed away unexpectedly on December 24, 2021, at his home in Springfield, Virginia. He is survived by his wife of over forty years, Peggy Plunkett, and three sons — David, Sheridan and Alexander.
Sher lived an extraordinary life as an anthropologist specializing in Asia studies with field work in India, Pakistan and Nepal and as a Foreign Service Officer with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Sher was an avid reader and he once cited the importance of Stuart Chase’s book, “The Proper Study of Mankind” for his lifelong focus on how social scientists and, specifically, anthropologists can provide the analysis and insights necessary to solve problems faced by mankind. Leaving Arkansas in 1956, Sher won a full scholarship to the University of Chicago and went on to complete an undergraduate degree followed by the award of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for graduate studies. A doctoral program in South Asia anthropology followed in 1963 at the University of California – Berkley with field work in India. This led to a job providing cultural training at the University of California – Davis to one of the first Peace Corps groups to India. More field work in India and Pakistan was followed by teaching positions at the University of Virginia and Davidson College in North Carolina.
In 1979, Sher began working with USAID in Pakistan and was commissioned a Foreign Service Officer. After Pakistan, he served as an anthropologist/evaluation officer in USAID Bangladesh through 1984. Sher received an appointment as a visiting professor at Colorado State University in 1985 followed by a four-year assignment with the Science and Technology Bureau in USAID Washington where he was a major player in the design and implementation of a land mark environmental program – DESFIL (Development Strategies for Fragile Areas) project. USAID Nepal was his next assignment (1989 – 1991) in the agriculture office where Sher applied his social and cultural analysis skills to establish sustainable irrigation models that are still being implemented there today.
From 1992 through 1998, Sher returned to Washington and worked on a comprehensive technical assistance program supporting USAID missions throughout Latin America. During this period, Sher also worked on a major reengineering initiative and developed a “customer service” approach to make USAID programming more responsive and effective in achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives and serving the interests of stakeholders and program beneficiaries. Sher’s last overseas assignment in USAID was in Peru with the Alternative Development Program. His efforts to design and implement the program resulted in a significant increase in small scale farmer incomes and played a key role in reducing the production of coca leaf (used in the production of cocaine) in Peru. Sher returned to Washington DC in 2002 and finished his career in the Latin America Bureau.
After retirement, Sher taught at George Washington University, worked with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) course as a Deputy Chief of Mission role player in the fictious country of Erewhon, undertook several short-term consulting assignments, and volunteered with the Fairfax County Medical Reserve Corps. Sher was a good friend, a valued colleague, a loving husband and father, and a patriot. He will be missed.