Joseph Coolidge Wheeler, 97

February 16, 2024

Joe Wheeler, Man of Vision 

Joseph Coolidge Wheeler, aged 97, died in his sleep at home in Concord, Massachusetts on Feb. 11, 2024 after a normal day.

Born in Concord November 21, 1926 to Caleb Henry Wheeler and Ruth Winifred (Robinson) Wheeler, Joe studied at Concord High School (1945), Bowdoin College (1948), the Graduate Institute of International Studies of Geneva, and Harvard’s Littauer School (MA/MPA 1951). A distinguished career in international development included posts in Jordan, Pakistan, Kenya, Paris and Geneva. Returning home to Concord after retirement, he was instrumental in passage of the Community Preservation Act and preservation of the Thoreau birth house.

Joe described boyhood on Thoreau Farm as idyllic. A brother’s $20 gift to attend a Quaker conference on World Federalism launched his international career at age 15. Becoming a World Federalist student leader, he organized national and international conferences promoting world governance and an end to war.

Joe worked for the United States foreign aid program (USAID), Peace Corps, United Nations Environmental Program, and Organization for Economic Development.  He was USAID Mission Director to Jordan (1965-1967) and Pakistan (1969-1977), and USAID Assistant Administrator from 1980 to 1982. Deeply committed to environmental issues, he organized the 1992 Earth Summit.

Joe met his first wife, Jean (Huleatt) Wheeler when both headed to Geneva to study. After losing Jean and a son in a 1969 car accident, he married M. Verona (Farness) Wheeler, beginning a joyful 44-year marriage, living in Islamabad, Washington, Nairobi, Paris and Geneva. Between adventures, they hosted innumerable diplomatic and family gatherings. His children and grandchildren will always remember visits to Paris and Kenya, fabulous holiday meals, and intensely competitive family croquet games.

Joe became blind in his eighties yet found ways to manage his blindness with remarkable grace, always describing his quality of life as very good. He leaves five children, Juliet Wheeler and Rachel Wheeler of Concord, MA, Deborah (Wheeler) Burk of Annandale, VA, Caleb Henry Wheeler of St. Louis, MO, and Margaret Jeanne Kane of Walnut Creek, CA, sons-in-law Kenneth Turkington and John Myers, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his four brothers, both wives, son Daniel Lincoln Wheeler and step-daughter, Marilee Kane.

A memorial service will be held in May. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Thoreau Farm Trust, PO Box 454, Concord, MA 01742. For Joe’s complete obituary, please see