A Second Career
By the late 1980's Audrey's film career was coming to a close, her two sons were grown, and she was living in Switzerland with her companion Robert Wolders. Instead of settling down to a comfortable retirement, she began the job that would occupy the last five years of her life: Special Ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund. As a starving child in Holland after Word War II, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, forerunner of UNICEF, brought her much-needed food, medicine, and clothing. "There is a moral obligation," she would say, "that those who have should give to those who don't."
Established in 1946, UNICEF is the largest development agency committed to working specifically for children. Working closely with governments, local communities and non-governmental organizations, UNICEF provides emergency relief and carries out long-term development programs in areas such as primary health care, nutrition, basic education, water and sanitation, immunization, children's rights, HIV/AIDS prevention, and gender equality.
Audrey Hepburn's love for children made her decision to become the Special Ambassador for UNICEF an easy one. "When I was little, I used to embarrass my mother by trying to pick babies out of prams at the market," she said. "The one thing I dreamed of in my life was to have children of my own. It always boils down to the same thing - of not only receiving love but wanting desperately to give it."
In the fall of 1987, Audrey was invited to dedicate an international music festival "to the world's children" in Macao, while on a tour of the Far East with Wolders. The money raised by that night's concert was to go to UNICEF. After the concert, Audrey wondered aloud: Wasn't there something more she could be doing for UNICEF?
"We didn't go to her," said Christa Roth, a UNICEF employee who became a close friend of Audrey's, "She came to us." She recalls, "At that time the World Philharmonic Orchestra was embarking on an enormous global tour." One was planned for Tokyo in March 1988.
"We knew Audrey had an enormous following among the Japanese. We all decided she should appear there on our behalf, introducing the orchestra and speaking about our work. The numbers who attended exceeded our wildest expectations. It was like a national event. I think that experience decided Audrey: if she could lend her name and fame to UNICEF in such a way that it would help our work with children, she would. That was the beginning; that was how it all started. No one could have foreseen what it led to."
The announcement of Audrey's appointment as the Special Ambassador for UNICEF was made on March 8, 1988. Although UNICEF officials would have been content if Audrey had functioned merely as a figurehead, that was never the case. "From the moment she signed on, she went into the field, meeting with the starving children whose message of despair she hoped to carry to the rest of the world. Completely hands on in her approach, she raised the consciousness of millions of people about countries they never knew existed."