Dr. George L. Peabody, one of the longest-serving and most popular professors in TFAS history has died at the age of 87. From 1990 to 2008, Peabody served on the faculty of the Institute on Business and Government Affairs, playing an integral role in the multi-faceted course, Power and Values in Organizations.
In the late 1980s then-TFAS President David R. Jones saw Peabody conduct a leadership workshop at Vanderbilt University. Jones was so impressed that he asked Georgetown professors Michael Collins and Tony Moore to build a course around Peabody’s workshop for the inaugural Institute on Business and Government Affairs in 1990.
Don Cogman, a former TFAS trustee who helped create IBGA, explained, “The whole idea of a curriculum that was unique and differentiating came to be because of the Power and Values class originally conceived by George at the very beginning of the Institute. I remember David Jones recommending that we meet with him and that’s all it took to understand what a unique individual he was and the contribution he could make to the success of our idea.”
The Power and Values course encourages students to analyze their moral beliefs and teaches them how to apply those beliefs in the workplace. Peabody’s segment of the course was an intensive two-day workshop in which students discover sources of their own empowerment through simulations and power exercises.
“Dr. Peabody taught our students how to think, define themselves, and to understand in a real and tangible way the influence of power and values in the workplace … His charm and charisma captivated those in his classes, year after year. ” – Kristy Khachigian, IBGA Director from 1999-2006
Peabody described his approach this way: “I take very easy theory and then put students in difficult situations to test the theory allowing them to see where their values stand. I hope they come away knowing that credibility, not money, is the basis of power. I want students to be able to the analyze power in themselves. In addition, I want them to be able to recognize that power moves outside of their domain.”
IBGA alumni recall how Peabody encouraged them to incorporate lessons from their internships and other IBGA events into the class. He had them write “pensees,” which were stream of consciousness diaries about their summer experiences. “Dr. Peabody taught our students how to think, define themselves, and to understand in a real and tangible way the influence of power and values in the workplace,” remarked Kristy Khachigian of TFAS, who directed IBGA from 1999-2006. “His charm and charisma captivated those in his classes, year after year. He transcended the program with his influence, grace and wisdom.”
Professor Bill Doherty, who taught with Peabody in IBGA added, “George had gentleness and evidenced a respectful interest in each of the students he touched. He believed in personal responsibility; that individuals are the agents of change; reflection and appreciation of values dignify each of us and enable us to contribute to a greater society.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Peabody began to travel across the globe when he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. During World War II he served as a gunnery officer on the USS LST-758, which led him to the battle of Iwo Jima. In fact, the famous flag raised during the capture of the island came from Peabody’s ship. The human devastation he witnessed on Iwo Jima sparked Peabody’s interest in theology.
After receiving his B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina, Peabody continued his schooling and earned a Masters of Divinity from the Episcopal Theological School and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Union Institute University.
For 15 years, Peabody was an ordained Episcopal priest, but he left the priesthood and launched an organizational consulting practice aimed at developing leaders. For years he trained clergy, businesspeople, CIA agents, and others in locations such as Africa and the Middle East. He was also involved in conflict resolution between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
In a varied and fascinating career that spanned the globe, Peabody considered his interaction with TFAS students among his most rewarding and meaningful work.
Betsy Bryant (B 05) captured the sentiments of her fellow alumni saying, “Dr. Peabody was a wonderful person and teacher. It was an honor to be one of his students.” Stefani Zimmerman (B 02) added, “Not only did he push his students to do their very best, he inspired us all to aim high and pursue our dreams. Years after my summer at TFAS I kept in touch with him and was always encouraged by his advice and motivated to achieve all of my goals – for that I will always be grateful.” LeRoy Coleman (B 04)simply said, “He was a kind and thougtful man. He will be missed,” while Brett Sween (B 01) noted “He truly changed the way that I think about the worlds of business and ethics – I learned more in those 2 days than maybe in the rest of my college experience.”
Andy Christianson (B 04, HK 05) said, “In the classroom he had a subtle way of teaching students about their own power and value through introspection, not merely lectures and discussion. He was always encouraging students to enjoy the power and freedom of their youth through adventure, sharing his own stories of riding motorcycles and climbing the Matterhorn. A master of collecting quotes and maxims, his were more than just cliches and sound bytes, always useful and practical. One of his most memorable lessons was live by what you would want to be said about your life at your eulogy. I think he would be pleased with what people have to say about him and the lasting impact he had on those around him.”
At the conclusion of the 2009 IBGA program, TFAS renamed its outstanding student award in honor of Dr. Peabody. That award will continue to be given annually to an IBGA student in Peabody’s name. TFAS has also established a scholarship for IBGA students in memory of Dr. George Peabody. If you are interested in donating to the scholarship, click here.