Insights and Analysis

Betty Borden: A Friend and Colleague Remembered

March 28, 2023

By John J. Brandon

On February 23, 2023, Betty Borden, a former program officer and acting director of our Washington office, succumbed to a year-long battle with cancer. Betty worked for The Asia Foundation from 1989 to 1995. For five of those years, I worked closely with Betty, who was a wonderful colleague and a dear friend. We remained close for the next quarter century, talking often by phone and meeting in person during my occasional visits to New York City.

After leaving the Foundation, Betty moved to New York with her husband, Jonathan Stein, who then worked for Senator Paul Simon on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She had met Jonathan when she was on the staff of Senator Alan Cranston of California. In New York, Betty worked for 23 years at the Japan Society, where she directed the Innovator’s Network, creating opportunities for leaders and innovators from the United States and Japan to share ideas and work together for positive social change. She was also energetically involved in many other projects, including the urgent relief efforts after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

The late Betty Borden with her husband Jonathan and their daughter Sophie.

Betty and I worked together organizing observation/study tours in Washington for mid- to senior-level officials from throughout Asia and the Pacific. Being of Japanese descent, Betty took a keen interest in that country, where she still had family. But Betty also played a pivotal role in Mongolia, implementing programs for ministers, members of parliament, Supreme Court justices, and civil society leaders as that country began its democratic reform after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

In 1993, Betty monitored the historic Cambodian elections and spoke enthusiastically about her experiences there. She also worked closely with our Congressional Fellows from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, and the Philippines, all of whom have risen to prominence in their respective societies. Whether working for The Asia Foundation or the Japan Society, Betty contributed richly to strengthening U.S.-Asia relations and people-to-people ties.

Bill Fuller, former president of The Asia Foundation, had this to say upon learning of Betty’s passing: “Betty Borden was an outstanding staff member with a deep commitment to the role and the values of The Asia Foundation. She was a delight to work with and contributed to the office’s work in many areas, including the Foundation’s relations on Capitol Hill and with the Department of State. I also valued highly Betty’s professionalism, work ethic, reliability, and support.”

While I love to talk, Betty loved to talk even more. Our last conversation was less than two weeks before her death. Although her time was near, her voice never betrayed that she was seriously ill. We spoke for almost two hours about events in Asia, The Asia Foundation, colleagues, friends, and family. Our conversation was mingled throughout with laughter. I will always treasure our last conversation and think warmly of our friendship. Betty was a kind, caring, thoughtful colleague and friend, whom I will indeed miss.

On behalf of The Asia Foundation, I would like to offer our deepest sympathies to Betty’s husband, Jonathan, their daughter, Sophie, and Betty’s father, sister, and brother.

John Brandon is the Asia Foundation’s senior director of international relations programs. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.


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