IOM Mourns Death of Former Director General James N. Purcell Jr.

Former Director General James Purcell Jr. listens to a Chechen woman affected by the war. Photo: IOM Archive

Geneva – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is saddened by the death of former Director General James N. Purcell Jr. who died Friday, 5 January in Columbia, Maryland, United States at the age of 85.

Purcell guided IOM from 1988 to 1998, a 10-year tenure in which he modernized the organization and expanded its geographical scope and capabilities to help governments face urgent migration issues. Purcell led IOM through a period in which it helped the direct movement of more than 10 million people worldwide, and during which the number of Member States and governments affiliated with IOM doubled to more than 100. 

“Throughout Jim’s long and storied career, he was a tireless advocate for migrants and refugees,” said IOM Director General Amy Pope. 

“Long after he left IOM, he continued to lend his voice to support in the United States for the work of IOM, including as Chairman of the Board of Directors for USA for IOM. I will always be grateful for his counsel to IOM and to me personally, and for his kindness.”
IOM developed a solid reputation for humanitarian cooperation with partner organizations and governments, along with solid fiscal management and programme accountability, during Purcell’s tenure. He organized and directed a refocusing and restructuring of IOM, including an update of its Constitution.  
Purcell’s lengthy public service career stretched back to President John F. Kennedy’s administration, including leading the US Department of State’s Bureau of Refugee Programs during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Purcell also wrote the book, “We’re in Danger! Who Will Help Us? Refugees and Migrants: A Test of Civilization,” to which former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz wrote the foreword.  
A native of Nashville, Purcell held a masters degree in public administration from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Furman University.