Skip to content

Harriet Mayor Fulbright

In Remembrance
December 13, 1933 - September 26, 2023


Harriet Mayor Fulbright died very peacefully at Croasdaile Health Center in Durham, NC on September 26th, 2023.

She was born in New York City, New York on December 13, 1933. Her father, Brantz Mayor, worked for Time Magazine as a young man and later as an engineer for Boeing. Her mother, Evie Mayor, died when Harriet was 14. Brantz remarried and had two more children with his wife, Ana Mayor.

Harriet’s first overseas experience was at the age of 14, when she traveled to Colombia for a summer study program. She continued her education at Radcliffe College, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in 1955.  In 1975, Fulbright earned her MFA from the American University in Washington DC.

Harriet married William Watts in 1953 and gave birth to three daughters. The family spent two years each stationed in South Korea and the USSR, and one year in both Germany and France. She taught English in each country and would continue to teach for many years to come. She divorced William Watts in 1974.

In 1990, she married J. William Fulbright. They lived together in Washington DC until his death in 1995. She continued to live in DC; although as the unofficial ambassador of the Fulbright Association, Harriet spent as much time traveling the world meeting with heads of state and former Fulbright scholars as she did at home in the US.

In 1997 she was appointed to the position of Executive Director of the President’s Committee of Arts and Humanities. In 2006, she created the J. William & Harriet Fulbright Center, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting peace through international education. Throughout her life, she has received numerous awards and honorary degrees.

Harriet is survived by four siblings, Dr. Michael Mayor, Susan Mayor, Maria Gross, and Archer Mayor as well as three daughters, Evie Watts, Shelby Funk, Heidi Mayor, grandchildren Bo Ward, Anna Ward, and two great grandchildren, Millie and Cooper Ward.

Below, you will find the Fulbright Association’s tribute to Harriet Mayor Fulbright, also available at

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that Harriet Mayor Fulbright, Senator Fulbright’s widow and the first Executive Director of the Fulbright Association, has died. With her passing, we mark the end of an era, and the loss of a singular leader in our community. Apart from the Senator, Harriet was the Program’s greatest ambassador and advocate because she spoke about its impact with such force, passion, and commitment. You knew you were among Fulbright royalty in her presence, as she carried herself with such dignity and charisma—but in ways that were so approachable and friendly.

She had and was loved by many friends around the world. Some of them have shared their memories with me. Ann Lewis recalls how “smart, lively, and dedicated” Harriet was and how Harriet was “reborn” after the Senator’s death with a new job in the Clinton Administration. She remembers Harriet’s stories of traveling to Cyprus with Fulbrighter artist Dale Chihuly. Judy Dollenmayer wrote that Harriet was “a woman of great intelligence, humor, and a talent for leadership that meant so much to so many…She never last hope in humankind… (and was) a model of a life well lived and savored.” Jody Olson said, “Harriet was a mentor, friend, and wonderful professional colleague to me for decades.”

I invite you to read Sherry Mueller’s full tribute here, but allow me to quote from that blog on the Public Diplomacy Council of American website:

For some years Harriet was my neighbor. Whether I asked her to provide a homestay for a visiting Dutch scholar, or to loan a large cooking pot for a buffet dinner she would be attending, the answer was always an enthusiastic yes. Her generosity, her vivaciousness, and her encouraging ways are remembered with gratitude. She was a remarkable ambassador for the Fulbright Program and a force for good in our turbulent world.

It is difficult to measure the full impact of Harriet’s leadership as the first Executive Director of the Association. Among many challenges she met was moving the new organization from Bryn Mawr College to Washington. Then board member Mary Jane Roberts, who recruited and interviewed Harriet for the position, recalls that she “was perfect… with the skills to define the mission and make it happen—and she certainly did!”  Mary Jane asks, “Who could have foreseen all she would accomplish? We are all her beneficiaries and mourn her passing.”

Harriet Fulbright & John Bader

Many Association board chairs echo Mary Jane’s words. Cynthia Ackron Baldwin, our current chair, wrote Harriet “was a gracious woman and will be missed.” DeDe Long said Harriet had “a remarkable life indeed.” And Mary Ellen Heian Schmider concluded that Harriet, “… has now entered history as a woman of stature: charming and effective representing the Fulbright Program and its founder, but a woman of achievement in her own right in the era of US engagement with the globe…” Mary Ellen’s full blog post can be found here.

I consider it a great honor to have known Harriet Fulbright. She was always engaging and supportive, wishing the best for the Association, and giving counsel to me and many of her successors as Executive Director. I will cherish the many times I spent with her, particularly the last time, several years ago while she still lived in Washington. She invited me to tea, and we spent a long afternoon chatting about the Senator, her work, the Fulbright Association, and our shared hopes for a brighter future. My phone occasionally features the picture taken of us two at that tea, and it always makes me smile.

We have all lost a great lady, a role model, and a dear friend.

John Bader
Executive Director, Fulbright Association

Back To Top