A man with a mission to create a better world, dedication to do whatever it takes to accomplish his vision, and a charisma to inspire others to join him on this journey. This is Stephen Galatti, the person who transformed AFS from a volunteer medical corps into an international education organization that still transforms the lives of thousands of people throughout the world. His service to our organization was a multifaceted and deeply influential one: looking back on his achievements today paints a clear picture of someone with a deep commitment to global citizenship—we might even call him the original AFS Active Global Citizen.

“Stephen Galatti was a remarkable American and a remarkable citizen of the world.”

— U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, July 1964

July 13, 2024 marks 60 years since the passing of Stephen Galatti (born on August 6, 1888 in New Jersey). He was a first-generation Greek American and a talented athlete who studied at Harvard University. After graduating in 1910, he worked as a banker in New York, London, and New Delhi, but when World War I erupted in 1914, he left banking to volunteer with the American Embassy in London. In 1915 he joined the American Ambulance Field Service, the precursor to AFS. AFS Founder A. Piatt Andrew quickly noticed Galatti’s abilities and promoted him to Head of the Paris Headquarters. Some of Galatti’s responsibilities at that time included selecting volunteers, writing to worried parents, procuring donor plates for ambulances, and organizing new units. After the United States Army took over AFS in 1917, Galatti was commissioned Captain in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service and later became a Major.

Following the war, Galatti returned to banking in New York and Paris, but he was also actively involved in AFS’ transformation into the AFS Fellowships for French Universities. This initiative between the wars funded overseas travel for American and French graduate students. Galatti served as Director and then as President of the Fellowships after A. Piatt Andrew’s passing in 1936.

“The American Field Service believes in youth—in its ability to see clearly, to see through the fog of propaganda, to see with the eyes of the heart. This is so of the youth of all nations…and it is to this proposition that the entire AFS is now devoted.”

—Stephen Galatti, 1946

When World War II began in 1939, Galatti reactivated the ambulance corps. He worked as a stockbroker by day and at the AFS office in New York City by night. He enlisted and trained volunteers, met with representatives from the U.S. Department of State, supplied ambulances, and more. Under his direction, by the end of the war, 2,196 ambulance drivers had served and assisted more than 700,000 wounded.

“Avoid making comparisons, favorable or unfavorable, between your home and the US… give yourself the time to see the whole picture before judging any particular situation. Try to see the ‘Why?’ behind things: often your opinion will change before you do.”

—Stephen Galatti to AFS exchange students, 1956

AFS’ volunteer drivers, in a series of meetings after the war, decided AFS should continue but should act as more than just a veterans’ clubhouse. They decided the organization should also offer scholarships for student exchanges during peacetime, and Galatti was appointed Director General. In 1947, AFS had its first postwar student exchange for secondary school and college students. Organized bus trips soon followed as a way for students to see more of the United States’ natural beauty before returning to their home countries.

Galatti became well-known for his creative fundraising strategies, including his personal letters, of which he penned thousands. In 1964, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize “for founding American Field Service International Scholarships, an organization that grants scholarships to students who try to further understanding between countries.” He had been Director General of AFS for 29 years, and the organization had expanded into 60 countries under his direction.

AFS now has program activity in 99 countries, having grown from 55 students in 1947 to more than 10,000 students today. Galatti’s incredible vision for a program of peace built on international friendships has spread to all corners of the world and continues to diversify and positively impact communities and people each year.

“Steve Galatti’s leadership of AFS, illustrious in WWII, became the inspirational force that transformed idealistic motivations of AFS volunteers from two world wars into our student program of today. He brought focused, full commitment of spirit and energy, to the well being of every single student.”

—Arthur Howe Jr, WWII Driver, Former AFS President