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Tribute to Dr. Horace Grant Underwood


Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard
At the Memorial Service, Luce Chapel, Yonsei University, 19 January 2004


I am honored to be here today as we gather together to recall the life of a great man and a leading figure in Korea. Representing the United States government and many Americans who would wish to be with us here in Seoul, I stand here before family members and his many friends and colleagues to express my deepest sorrow at the passing of Dr. Horace Grant Underwood, who left us just last week at the age of 87.

As the American President John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” We gather today in sorrow, but also in appreciation to remember a man who gave a great deal to two countries. As a result of his career as an educator and his role as a community leader, Dr. Underwood left an indelible mark on our communities that can make both Koreans and Americans proud.

We Americans are indeed proud of Dr. Underwood’s legacy. He was the grandson of another great Horace Grant Underwood, who established Chosun Christian College in 1915, which along with Severance Medical School became what is now Yonsei University. He was born in Seoul to missionary parents, and was very proud of his long-term and deep ties to Yonsei. We have just heard about Dr. Underwood’s contribution to this great university. In addition to his service to Yonsei, Dr. Underwood was also a longtime member of the Board of Directors of the Korean-American Educational Commission (Fulbright). He was so much a part of education in Korea that a Yonsei University student once told a visiting American professor, unbidden, “In Korea, Professor Underwood is seen as a hero.”

Dr. Underwood earned his bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College and a master’s and doctoral degree from New York University. It seems that only during his years of schooling, and during the time that he served with the U.S. Navy, was he away from Korea for any extended period. From December 1942 to July 1947, Dr. Underwood served with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. He again served in the Navy as a language officer from July 1950 to October 1953 in Korea, including two years as senior interpreter at the Armistice talks. Clearly, even early in his life, Dr. Underwood proved his commitment as a true supporter of Korea and Korean-American relations. As a newcomer to Korea less than three years ago, I have benefited greatly from Dr. Underwood’s advice during a period in which our relationship has needed his wisdom.

A lifelong advocate of strong ties between the Korean and American peoples, he served for more than 20 years as vice president of the Korean American Association, and the Association granted him an award in November 2002. He also received the first Korean American Friendship award from the Korean American Friendship Society and was awarded a National Medal of Honor (Peony, or 2nd level) from the Korean government and the Inchon Prize for public service.

He once said, “Although on the outside I am an American, Korean blood is flowing in my veins,” and he clearly exemplified this dichotomy of his love for both countries through his dedication to his community. He said of himself that he was an optimistic man who had seen amazing things happen in Korea in his time, and who believed in great things for Korea in the future.

He showed this by his willingness to give back to Korea in return for all that Korea gave to his life. He served on the board of directors for the Korean Bible Society, several schools, colleges, and hospitals. He was a leader in the Royal Asiatic Society, the USO, and the Rotary Club. One of his last public appearances was to share his photographs and memories with members of the Royal Asiatic Society.

This kind of service to both his country of citizenship and his adopted country created a unique story, and a unique man. We will continue to celebrate his life and his remarkable achievements.

So today, I join with thousands of others whom Horace Underwood touched in his long and full life in mourning the loss of a great educator, but more importantly, a great friend of both the Korean and American people.