Floor and Committee Statements

Thursday, March 11, 2010 -

Floor Statement Honoring Kate Puzey

Thursday, March 11, 2010

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Floor Statement Honoring Kate Puzey
Remarks as Delivered on the Senate Floor

Mr. President, I rise on a very sad moment for me, but a very poignant moment as well. This morning at 6:30, when I got up in my condominium in Washington, I lit a candle. When I return there this evening, I will relight that candle. If you go on YouTube and look to ``Light A Candle for Kate Puzey,'' you will understand why I lit it, because 12 months ago today, March 11 of last year, Katherine ``Kate'' Puzey was murdered in Benin, Africa. Two years of volunteer teaching in a school in Benin and she was brutally murdered, her life was taken.

I didn't know Kate Puzey in life, but I have come to know her well in death. When I read the article in the Atlanta newspaper about her death, I was compelled to go to the funeral that day, to a family I did not know in a neighborhood I had not visited. I sat at the back of the church, and I listened for 2 hours to the tributes of young person after young person, minister after minister, teacher after teacher, Peace Corps volunteer after Peach Corps volunteer, talking about this wonderful woman of the world, this wonderful light to the world. Kate Puzey graduated at the top of her class in Cumming, GA, Forsyth County, in high school. She went on to William and Mary College, graduated with distinction and honors, was president of student government in high school, was everything you would like to see in a young person.

But she was not just a citizen of America, she was a citizen of the world.

She cared about the less fortunate. She cared deeply about troubled children. She committed her life to the Peace Corps immediately upon her graduation from college.

She was assigned to Benin, in west Africa. I am on the Africa subcommittee and travel to Africa every year. Last year I was in Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan and Darfur, Kenya. I understand the wonderful work of the Peace Corps volunteers in Africa. They are bringing hope out of despair, love out of tragedy. That was Kate's mission in life.

To listen to those Peace Corps volunteers who served with her--and they came to visit me and tell me about her--she was a shining star for America, she was a shining star for the children of Benin, Africa, she was everything John Kennedy intended the Peace Corps to be around the world when he created it 49 years ago this month.

Tragically, though, Kate was murdered. She was brutally murdered at the hands of an alleged person who is pending trial in Benin now, a person who is alleged to have murdered her because Kate Puzey did what is right. You see, Kate, as a teacher in this school, learned there was an individual who was sexually abusing young African children in Benin.

Benin is not like Washington. You do not pick up the phone and call the main desk and order something; you don't pick up a newspaper and read it; you do not send an e-mail, because it does not exist. To communicate is very difficult.

But Kate, at risk to herself, communicated back to the central office what she had learned was taking place in the abuse of these children. The next day she was murdered at night in her hut.

The trial has not taken place yet. I am never going to convict anybody until they have had their day of justice. But from all the evidence that has been seen, Kate Puzey died because she did what is right. It caused me to think, when I met with her folks a few weeks ago, and listened to their concerns about other young people around the world volunteering in the Peace Corps, that maybe there is something we ought to do as a tribute for the sacrifice of Kate Puzey's life; that is, find a way to provide for these volunteers a protection, such as whistleblowers receive every day in government.

You see, whistleblower protection for those who would report something that is being done wrong keeps them from being abused. But Peace Corps people are not employees, they are volunteers. I met with Aaron Williams not too long ago, the new Director, who is doing a wonderful job at the Peace Corps. He agreed to meet with Kate's parents, Lois and Harry Puzey, who suggested to him some of the things that could be done as a tribute to Kate, and hopefully preventing something like this from ever happening again. I know Aaron Williams is looking at that. I commend him for the investigation he is doing.

Christopher Dodd from Connecticut, in this body, a Peace Corps volunteer himself many years ago, and I have met. He has some legislation coming soon on the Peace Corps. I spoke to him about incorporating a protection similar to whistleblower protection that government employees have for these volunteers who are in the Peace Corps, and immediately he seized on the idea, because he recognized what I know: Peace Corps volunteers are not in the luxury spots around the world. They live in danger and with very little support. They live way out, but they live there because they want to help. They want to protect. They want to right the wrongs.

When I travel to Africa every year, in every country I go, I invite Peace Corps volunteers for breakfast or lunch or dinner. I am always struck, first, that it usually takes them a couple of days to get to me, because they have to hitch rides or literally walk, because there is no transportation. I realize how remote their service is. But I also realize how wonderfully received their service is in the countries where they serve. We are blessed as a nation to have had a President who created the Peace Corps. We are blessed as a nation to have 7,600 Americans right now volunteering around the world, 155 of them from my home State of Georgia.

But periodically we face great tragedy. A year ago, Kate Puzey's life was taken away from her and her family, tragically. As sad as that tragedy is, we need to bring hope from that tragedy. From the despair that her family feels, we need to have a sense of love, and the best way to do it is to see to it that we pass legislation to protect or add protection to Peace Corps volunteers for providing information that is critical to be known and protect them from retribution.

I will work with Chris Dodd on that as a tribute to Kate Puzey, and when I go home tonight, I am going to relight that candle, a candle that pays tribute to the life and the love and the many successes of Kate Puzey.

While taken from us at the age of 24, she has left us with a legacy of everything that is right with America, everything that is right with our youth, everything that is right with the Peace Corps; that is, to deliver the message of hope to people around the world who have no hope, promise to those who have despair and hope for the future of mankind.

I pay tribute to the life of Catherine "Kate" Puzey, of Cumming, GA.