To the over 100 million modern inhabitants of
"golden Bengal" (Bangladesh), geography and history have dealt a cruel fate.
Their once prosperous landwhere waters of the giant Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers
join and empty into the Bay of Bengalis hostage to nature's violence, and to man's.
Bangladeshis have endured an unfair share of famine, flood, communal discord, political
strife, mass migrations and war. Dearth is their common lot.
Since 1952 Fr. RICHARD WILLIAM TIMM has absorbed himself in the life and struggles of the
Bangladeshis. In that year, newly arrived from theological studies at Holy Cross College
and graduate specialization in biology and parasitology at Catholic University of America,
both in Washington, D.C., he established a science department at St. Gregory's College in
Dhaka, then East Pakistan. Over succeeding years at Dhaka Medical College, and Notre Dame
College, (as St. Gregory's was renamed), he introduced a generation of Bangladeshi
students to the biological sciences. Simultaneously engaged in research, he discovered 250
new species of nematodes (parasitic worms) and produced 70 scientific papers.
When the cyclone and massive tidal surge of November 1970 devastated the coast of Bengal,
TIMM mobilized relief. Distributing emergency food, blankets, medicines, and subsequently
seeds and work animals, TIMM for the first time encountered brutal communal conflicts and
rural power struggles. These intensified when the Pakistani military belatedly joined in
the international relief efforts, and during the revolt, civil war and bloody struggle for
independence that followed. His involvement revealed to TIMM the harsh, uncertain world of
Bangladeshi villagers and led him to forsake teaching and devote himself wholly to
rehabilitation, rural development, and the reduction of communal tensions and social
TIMM was the first Planning Officer of the Christian Organization for Relief and
Rehabilitation (CORR), and later became its National Director when it became Caritas
Bangladesh. Initiating and coordinating relief funded by foreign charities, he
demonstrated a concern for all in need, regardless of creed or ethnic origin. Directing
and monitoring projects in irrigation, drainage, health and jute handicrafts, the six-foot
two native of Michigan City, Indiana, became a familiar champion, cutting through
bureaucratic obstacles and moving practical assistance to the villagers. To the (now) more
than 130 voluntary agencies which he brought together in 1974 to form the Association of
Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB), TIMM was a guiding spirit. Typically, he
relinquished leadership positions quickly: "This has been my role," he says,
"to get organizations going and then to let Bangladeshis take over."
Issues of social injustice preoccupy him today. Through the Justice and Peace Commission
of the Catholic Church TIMM investigated the exploitation of tribal minorities, and
exposed the harmful working conditions of the poor and landless women employed as
domestics, health workers, and in the garment, tea and cigarette industries. After a
series of conferences on these problems, working women in 1986 urged him to organize the
Coordinating Council for Human Rights in Bangladesh.
TIMM concludes that Bangladesh's pervasive poverty is caused largely by the crippling
powerlessness of the rural poor. He believes that arousing the poor to awareness and
action is the first step toward reform. Now 64, and Superior of the Holy Cross Fathers in
Bangladesh, TIMM confides, "I have more hope in changed people than in changed
structures and political systems."
In electing Reverend Father RICHARD WILLIAM TIMM to receive the 1987 Ramon Magsaysay Award
for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his 35 years of
sustained commitment of mind and heart to helping Bangladeshis build their national life.