Thomas Luche

Thomas Luche died June 19 in an automobile accident in Alden, New York. One of the early members of International Voluntary Services, Luche went to Vietnam with IVS in 1957, beginning a long association with that country as well as a career with the Agency for International Development. With AID, Luche later worked in Thailand, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Tanzania, and Ghana. He was later AID representative in Cape Verde and Burkina Faso. Since 2000, the Luches have lived in Mount Dora, FL, following decades of residence in the Washington, DC area. An avid fisherman and boater and an accomplished linguist fluent in Portuguese, Danish, French and Vietnamese, Luche was active on issues of the environment, human equality, preservation of endangered species, as well local cultural and church affairs. He leaves behind his wife of 55 years, Winifred Luche (born Bogardus), son Stephen, and daughters Jenna Luche-Thayer and Sarah Luche Durso. Luche served on the board of directors of IVS and was a member of DACOR, an organization of foreign affairs professionals. Memorial services and reception are scheduled for 11 AM, Saturday August 2 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Eustis, Florida.

Thomas Clifford Luche was born January 24, 1934 in Brooklyn, NY, to Jennie and Theodore Luche. Summers spent at grandmother’s farm in Northampton, Pa, contributed to a lasting interest in nature and the outdoors. He attended the State University College of Forestry at Syracuse University. While there, he met Winifred Bogardus of Fulton, NY, also a student at Syracuse. According to family legend, their first encounter was when Tom worked as a “pot boy” (washing pots and pans) in the Alpha Phi Sorority house where Winnie was a member and a waitress. They were married 1959 in Bethesda, Maryland.

After completing forestry school, Tom participated in a graduate fellowship program that took him to Denmark and Finland to work on forestry and plant issues in those northern climates. He learned fluent Danish, absorbed the life and customs of both nations, and began a lifelong interest in the cultures and daily activities of other countries.

Shortly after, Luche began his long involvement with Vietnam. In 1957, he joined the first group of volunteers to that country from IVS, the International Voluntary Services, the forerunner and partial model for the Peace Corps. Much of his early work was with refugee programs, helping to resettle the numerous refugees who chose to go south when Vietnam was partitioned in 1954-55. He learned fluent Vietnamese and worked as well in French, which he spoke and read with ease. Over time, Luche joined the U.S. Agency for International Development (then known in Vietnam as USOM) and was one of the first members of a new program, Rural Affairs. An unorthodox operation designed to expedite economic, social, and welfare programs to Vietnam’s provinces and rural population, Rural Affairs placed its young representatives in the provinces to work first-hand on these issues with local officials and village leaders. Luche worked in several provinces, most notably the highland area of Ban Me Thuat.

While the Luches enjoyed life in Vietnam, it was not without stress and danger. Part of their house in Saigon, for example, was blown up by a Molotov cocktail lobbed by a bicyclist riding down a nearby alley. During those years the family grew. Son Stephen was born in Washington, DC in 1959, and daughters Jenna and Sarah were born in Vietnam in 1960 and 1962. Over the years, Luche kept close ties with IVS friends and American and Vietnamese colleagues from Rural Affairs. He received the Vietnam Civilian Service Medal for service in Vietnam.

In 1967, Tom and family were assigned to Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand’s major city, to help with developmental programs to boost the economy of local hill tribes. The family reveled in lush, tropical Thailand. Luche was key to the creation of Border Crafts of Thailand, a successful venture that used U.S assistance to provide equipment, advice, and standards for local people to use local materials to craft marketable items, such as shirts, jewelry, bows and arrows, and other items popular with visitors. The enterprise attained commercial success and continued as a self-sustaining venture. Another area of activity was rural road-building, carried out with help from US Navy Seabeees. On one trip, driving briskly along a new section of road, Tom took a sharp turn onto a fork that had been washed away, careening downhill and overturned in a creek bed. He was awarded the HRH The Princess Mother’s Memorial Medal for service to the nation.

The next overseas assignment was in 1974 to Ouagadougou in Upper Volta (today, Burkina Faso), where Luche was in charge of rural development matters for the AID mission. While there he redirected an agricultural research project to emphasize soil and water conservation and developed technology that restored 15percent of degraded land to production. A posting to Arusha in Northern Tanzania followed, where Luche was the AID coordinator and also doubled as honorary consul, an often demanding job in this area popular with American tourists and congressional delegations heading for nearby safari tours. The Luches loved this beautiful region, despite its calamitous economic conditions. Tom spent much time with regional herdsmen and concentrated on village development projects and such priorities as improved wheat cultivation.

Following a tour in Washington, The Luches went off to Accra, Ghana (1983-85), where Tom was the general development officer for the AID mission and at various times acting AID director. Following another US posting, the next assignment was as the AID representative in Cape Verde (1987 – 1992), an area facing major problems of erosion and drought. Luche led an effort to plant 4 million trees to stabilize the environment, and helped establish the nation’s first Peace Corps program. He also worked closely with the American Embassy on policy reform, persuading the Cape Verdean government to develop democratic policies which helped to establish the nation’s first two-party system, a sharp contrast to the personalized single party model prevailing in much of Africa. Cape Verde, so challenging professionally, was rewarding personally and let Tom indulge two of his favorite activities, fishing and sailing. Tom was an avid tester of one of the American Embassy’s evacuation means, the official “evacuation vessel.”

Luche was transferred directly from Cape Verde to Burkina Faso, this time as AID director. This assignment, 1992-94, was his last AID posting. Tom retired in 1995.

Tom and Winnie bought a house in Mount Dora, Florida, and moved there in 2000. Tom continued his lifelong passions of fishing and boating, and voracious reading in literature, history, biography and poetry. He was active in local affairs such as Mount Dora’s annual music festival. The Lake Symphony Orchestra was established in Mount Dora while he served on the festival Board. For 11years he was a guardian ad litem for abused and abandoned children, representing them legally in the absence of a family member. Drawing on his language skills, he worked especially with local Haitian and Vietnamese children. Tom was also prominent in church affairs at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in nearby Eustis, Florida.

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