James P. Grant; UNICEF’s Longtime Top Executive

<i> From Times Staff and Wire Reports</i>

James P. Grant, who devoted his life to low- cost health care for the children of the world, died Saturday, two days after resigning as executive director of UNICEF.

Grant, who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts to improve the plight of children, was 72.

The cause of death was cancer, according to a statement from the United Nations Children’s Fund. It said he died at a hospital in Mt. Kisco, N.Y.

Grant had been battling the disease for a few years and his condition had recently deteriorated. On Thursday, his deputy, Richard Jolly, was appointed acting executive director.


Grant, UNICEF’s third director, made the organization a household word during his 15 years in the post, not least through its famed Christmas cards.

“Very few men or women ever have the opportunity to do as much good in the world as James Grant, and very few have ever grasped that opportunity with such complete and dedicated commitment,” said U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Grant emphasized simple, low-cost methods for improving pediatric health, such as immunization and oral rehydration.

Since 1980, when he took over as head of UNICEF, the percentage of children receiving immunizations in the developing world has risen from 20% to 80%.


Grant traveled the world, carrying a packet of oral rehydration salts in his pocket, as well as a note on the number of children killed by preventable diseases.

The salts are used to treat children suffering from diarrhea, a leading child killer in developing countries.

Grant was a tireless fund-raiser with a knack for attracting publicity for UNICEF, in part because of his own energy and his ability to persuade celebrities to promote the agency’s cause. They included Liv Ullmann, Roger Moore, Peter Ustinov, Harry Belafonte and the late Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn.

Grant, born in Beijing to missionary parents, graduated from UC Berkeley in 1943 and Harvard Law School in 1951.


Grant was a founding member, president and director general of the Overseas Development Council before joining UNICEF. He served in the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1954 to 1969.

In August, President Clinton presented Grant with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work on pediatric health.

Grant is survived by his wife, three sons from his previous marriage, two stepdaughters, a stepson and eight grandchildren.