Tribute to Lester Wolff

A Great Man of Passion, Vision, Eternal Creativity and Friendship Passes at Age 102. Former Congressman Lester Wolff (1/04/1919 to 5/11/2021). Chairman and Founder of AskCongress.

We learned today that former Congressman Lester Wolff, beloved father, grandfather, great grandfather and Founder of AskCongress.org passed away today. It is so fitting that his last action was to work feverishly at launching another one of his unique ideas on the internet. At 102 that is quite a fact.

Lester, who had been in intensive care just weeks ago, was in recovery and upon getting home immediately created a new internet concept catering to the needs of the elderly. I spoke with him yesterday and his excitement was tangible. What a great person! All he could think of was how to help elderly people like himself. And, he did not flinch for a second regarding the technology challenges facing him. He was doing what he loved. Creating.

Always an innovator, Lester formed Ask Congress as a video medium during the TV era of the 80’s. With the blessing of the The United States Congress, Ask Congress became a venue where the People could hear Congressmen and women speak their views. As the world changed so did the medium and Lester did not hesitate to adopt to the new internet.

At 83 years of age Lester launched AskCongress.org which quickly ranked number one on many of the search venues for those terms “ask” + “congress. His adoption of new tech did not stop there. Equally impressive was his expertise with Twitter, a millennial medium.

Until just a few years ago he tirelessly traveled to interview Congressmen and Congresswoman in his congenial manner, backed by knowledge of 8 terms as a New York Congressman. “Just 7 years ago he was awarded the  Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States, on behalf of the World War II members of the Civil Air Patrol” . Lester was so proud that during a period of division in the government he was able to bring both Republicans and Democrats to the podium together to give him this honor. The medal was secondary to his joy in seeing Speaker John Boehner (OH-8), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (K), Representative Michael McCaul (TX-10), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) joining together in a simple act of patriotism.

He was elected to Congress in 1964 and served from January 3, 1965 until January 3, 1981. He served as Chairman of the Asian and Pacific Affairs Committee, and the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. He commanded the Congressional Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, raising to the rank of Colonel.

“During his 1978 congressional delegation to China, he met with Deng Xiaoping. The “Deng-Wolff” Conversation conducted during this time was credited for its particular importance in the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States. Lester was the author of the aforementioned Taiwan Relations Act, signed into law on April 10, 1979. TRA was born of the need of the United States to find a way to protect its significant security and commercial interests in the Republic of China in the wake of President Jimmy Carter’s termination of diplomatic relations and a mutual defense treaty of 25 years.”

He introduced amendments to the White House-sponsored Foreign Assistance Act of 1969 to restore the initiative for direct peace talks between Israel and the Arab states and played a role in the Camp David Accords.

Until just recently he continued to advise many countries through Lester’s International Trade and Development Agency which continued his congressional work enlightening leaders as to the impact and importance of the “Taiwan Relations Act”, a bill he passed through Congress in 1979.

He was the director of the Pacific Community Institute at Touro College, and published numerous books on foreign policy. He hosted a weekly PBS show, Ask Congress, continuously since the mid-1980s which became AskCongress.org. Due to his expertise in Asian culture and relations, Lester was a well sought-after consultant. He was a director of the Griffon Corporation from 1987 to 2007. He received the World Peace Prize Top Honor in 2010. With the death of James D. Martin on October 30, 2017, Lester became the oldest living former member of Congress. He turned 102 in January 2021, was active on Twitter and continued to write books.

In February 2019, Lester donated his congressional papers to Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In February 2020, the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge was renamed the Congressman Lester Wolff Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

A visit to his home office was always a journey of discovery where photos of him with most world leaders over the last 50 years hung. From Kennedy to Carter Lester met with, had enlightened conversations with and befriended leaders who shape the world of yesterday and today.

I am sure that many will say much about our dear friend Lester Wolff. His accomplishments are far too numerous for us to outline in this brief post. The best we can say is he was a great friend who cared about his family, his country and his friends in that order and we are so privileged to have been his friend.

John Copen
Friend and Partner AskCongress.org.

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