A tribute to Bill Peters, founder of Jubilee 2000 and a former Chair to the board of Us (then USPG) Trustees
This tribute was written by the Rt Revd Peter Price, who until last year was the Bishop of Bath and Wells. In his former role as USPG (Us) General Secretary, Bishop Peter worked closely with Bill Peters.
Bill Peters was a larger than life character, but with a great personal modesty. He was Chair of USPG Trustees during my early years as Chief Executive. Bill was a delight, self effacing, always interested in others, and passionately committed to the causes he espoused.
A former diplomat in Cape Coast and Cyprus, Deputy High Commissioner in Bombay, and Ambassador to Uruguay, Bill had a distinguished career in the Foreign and Diplomatic Service. He was a co founder of Jubilee 2000. This extraordinarily effective campaign began when he was chair of USPG, and the story I want to tell about Bill concerns how USPG was one of Jubilee 2000’s first funders.
In 1992 USPG faced a major financial crisis, and Bill understood the situation. We had to make savings in budgets and personnel. It was a difficult and painful time.
One afternoon Bill came to my office and asked how things were, offered his usual encouragement, and then said: ‘Peter can you give me a thousand pounds?’
Following my initial reaction of surprise, he clarified: ‘Could USPG give me a thousand pounds?’
‘Well, Bill,’ I replied, ‘you know we have the small matter of a million pound deficit?’
‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘I do know that.’
‘So what’s it for?’ I asked.
‘I want to bring an end to third world debt by the year 2000.’
‘So how will a thousand pounds do that?’ I queried.
‘Well, it’s to be called Jubilee 2000. So far I have not raised any money. A number of charities and aid agencies have said no. Do you think you could help? It would be a wonderful thing to do, wouldn’t it?’
‘Just a minute,’ I said, leaving the room.
I went down the open plan office to my finance director Michael Hart. ‘Michael,’ I said, ‘I’ve got Bill in my room. He wants USPG to give him a £1,000 to end third world debt by the year 2000. He’s talking about something called Jubilee 2000.’
Michael suppressed a snorted giggle, and we both raised an eyebrow - I think we were both internally asking the same question: ‘Is Bill nuts?’
‘Look,’ I said, ‘he is the Chair and, you never know, it might work.’
‘Well,’ said Michael, ‘what’s another thousand given the trouble we’re in. Will you co-sign the cheque?’
Bill got his thousand pounds, the seed corn for what was to become one of the most successful lobbying campaigns in history. Sure, Bill didn’t end third world debt, but the outcome of Jubilee 2000 was to bring changes to the World Bank’s strategy in relation to Highly Indebted Poor Countries in order to give them a fresh start; and public consciousness was raised as never before on a single issue to ‘Make Poverty History’.
I’m glad USPG found the money. Because we did, in due course Oxfam, Christian Aid, and various trade unions and other bodies also joined in. It was a great vision. Thank you, Bill.
On a personal level, Bill was a huge personal support to me as Chief Executive (then known as General Secretary). Every 10 days or so the phone would ring, and a voice would say: ‘Bill Peters here. How’s it going?’
Bill knew exactly when to offer guidance and advice, but even better knew how to encourage and nurture leadership so that the organisation could function well and the staff do their jobs.
We were all the richer for knowing Bill, and Us/USPG has good reason to be grateful for all he offered us during his years as Chair of Trustees. May he rest in peace.