Ella Torrey

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Ms. Torrey is a graduate of Moorestown Friends School, Ms. Torrey’s focus was on modern dance and English at Bennington College, but she left Martha Graham and Shakespeare behind after graduation and pursued an interest in international relations. She soon found her way to the United Nations, newly created in 1945, where she served its prime charter aims of maintaining international peace, fundamental human rights and the equal rights of men, women and nations. She spent the next 50 years of her career working toward these goals.

Ms. Torrey’s first move was to Paris where she got a job as fashion editor for the Chicago Tribune (“From Neck to Navel”). Then, one step closer to her interest in the United Nations which, in Paris at the time, was dealing with the Arab-Israeli issue, she obtained a position on Al Misri, then Egypt’s largest daily newspaper.

There she was the only woman among seven Arab men; her job: editing their “needy” English. One advantage at Al Misri, she says, was her off-hour gatherings at the local bar (drinking Coke or lemonade) with reporters covering the U.N. and U.S. State Department officers attending U.N. meetings. From these meetings came the suggestion that she apply for work at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., a branch of the State Department in New York when she returned home.

That she did in 1949 and there, as information officer, she wrote secret and unclassified reports on all U.N. meetings of the Security Council, General Assembly, and committee meetings. Each night these reports were sent to the Secretary of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense, Labor and Budget offices in Washington, and to U.S. embassies overseas, providing information and background needed to formulate major U.S. policies on such issues as the Arab-Israeli conflict, German unification and Chinese representation at the U.N.

She was also rewarded with a position serving Eleanor Roosevelt, who had been appointed by President Truman as a U.S. delegate to the UN. Ella handled correspondence, edited and scheduled speeches and briefed visitors and the foreign press.

Ms. Torrey’s first assignment at the United Nations was as public information officer to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who had been appointed by President Truman as a U.S. delegate to the U.N. Mrs. Roosevelt is seen here at an event in 1947 with Frank Sinatra.

The U.N. came to an end for Ms. Torrey when she was married in 1954 and joined her husband in Cambridge, where he was attending the Harvard Business School. From there, commuting to Providence, R.I., and later living in Bethlehem, PA, she became director of local World Affairs Councils and started model United Nations programs for area high school students.

In Evansville, Indiana, still following U.N. concerns, she was president of the George Washington Carver Community Center, which was successful in integrating schools. From 1981 to 1987, Ella was executive director of the International Visitors Council of Philadelphia for over 4,000 foreign visitors per year seeking business, cultural and government connections in the Philadelphia area and learning about the U.S. Constitution.

Throughout the years, always immersed in U.N. concerns, Ms. Torrey has lectured on the organization’s many operations she believes much of the public is unaware of, such as disease control by the World Health Organization, scientific research exchanges through UNESCO, worldwide communication for farmers and aviators through Weather Watch and the Meteorological Organization, and nuclear watchdog surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and of course, its peace-keeping efforts.

Now in “retirement” at age 85 in upper Roxborough, Ms. Torrey continues these lectures and adds membership and activities in a number of internationally focused area groups. She is also a board member of Chamounix Youth Hostel and the Global Association Philadelphia and a member of Friends of the Wissahickon.