Bill Wipfler, who passed away on October 4, was one of the founders of WOLA and a longtime advocate for human rights and social justice in Latin America.
Bill was an Episcopal priest who had served in the Dominican Republic. He was active in the 1960s and early 1970s in the ecumenical Latin American Strategy Committee, which brought together activists and church leaders to advocate for human rights and social justice in Latin America.
WOLA grew out of the LASC after the 1973 coup in Chile, and Bill Wipfler was one of those who led the push to create WOLA. Bill was the head of the Caribbean and Latin American Department of the National Council of Churches, then the Director of the Human Rights Office of the National Council of Churches till 1988. Through LASC, with WOLA, at the NCC, and and elsewhere, Bill denounced repression and torture in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Central America, and criticized the U.S. government’s Latin American policies. He is remembered by friends and colleagues in the U.S, and throughout the hemisphere.
WOLA Senior Fellow Joe Eldridge, who served as WOLA’s Executive Director in its early years from 1974 to 1986, issued the following statement:
“Bill was an organizer of WOLA’s precursor, the Latin American Strategy Committee. When the idea for a WOLA was proposed, he endorsed it enthusiastically and immediately put his mind, heart, and the resources of the National Council of Churches behind it. He was a human rights pioneer and champion.
“Working with Charles Harper at the World Council of Churches, together they had a network of working relationships with faith communities in resistance all over the hemisphere. They became the locus for documenting and denouncing human rights violations during the 1970s and early 1980s. They were the source for so much of WOLA’s work during those early years—and they would count on WOLA to agitate in Congress and amplify these messages of hope and despair from Latin America.
“Bill’s voice was clear and strong and would break through the fog of misguided U.S. policy. I consider him a human rights saint.”