Drexel president John Fry named honorary consul to South Africa

Drexel University president John A. Fry has a new role with an international flavor: honorary consul of South Africa.

It’s a volunteer position and he’ll remain Drexel’s leader, but with a new focus on strengthening the city’s and university’s commercial, economic, cultural, and scientific relationships with South Africa. He was appointed by the president of South Africa and the appointment was approved by the US State Department of Foreign Missions.

“It made sense civically, and it made sense educationally for Drexel,” said Fry, 62, who has led the West Philadelphia university for 12 years. “So I agreed to do it.”

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Fry said he has been to Africa three times, visiting more than a half dozen countries, in his capacity as Drexel’s president. Nigeria, he said, is one of Drexel’s top countries for recruiting undergraduates, he said, and the university has done scientific research in Equatorial Guinea and partnered with World Vision to bring fresh water to remote African villages. The university’s school of public health also worked in Africa to reduce HIV risk among adolescent mothers and domestic violence by helping young mothers attend school.

He looks forward to furthering university partnerships in the country through his new role, he said.

The post, he said, was brought to his attention by Peter Longstreth, former CEO of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., Philadelphia’s economic development arm, who heads the Consular Corps Association of Philadelphia. The nonprofit — the oldest consular organization in the country — includes more than 70 members who represent countries around the world. Drexel had hosted a reception for the Corps at its squash center, and Fry said he was impressed with the group.

Longstreth said the consulate general of South Africa is a member of the association from New York and was interested in having an honorary consul in Philadelphia.

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“It’s a very constructive role, and I can’t imagine anybody who will do it better than John Fry,” Longstreth said during an interview from Uruguay.

Fry has developed a reputation as an urban planner as much as an educational leader, having initiated projects to upgrade the university’s neighborhood. Last year he received the William Penn Award from the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia for his work.

“Few leaders in our city and region are as dynamic as John Fry,” Rob Wonderling, the chamber’s president and chief executive, said at the time. “His exceptional vision and intellect have not only reimagined higher education, but revitalized Philadelphia neighborhoods and commercial corridors.”

Before coming to Drexel, Fry was president of Franklin & Marshall College and executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania, where he also made his mark in urban development.

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Earlier this year, he got a contract extension to remain as Drexel’s president through 2028. At Drexel, he launched a center for neighborhood partnerships and a school of entrepreneurship, negotiated Drexel’s affiliation with the Academy of Natural Sciences and boosted fund-raising. He earned $1.2 million in total compensation in 2019, the most recent year for which public data is available.

His honorary consul role will offer varied opportunities if Longstreth’s experience is any indication.

Longstreth has served as the honorary consul of Uruguay since 2014. His appointment came after the US Department of Agriculture approved the importation of citrus fruit from Uruguay to the United States through the Port of Philadelphia.

“The government of Uruguay decided that they would appoint an honorary consul to help promote that business,” Longstreth explained. “One of the roles I have is to work to promote connections between Uruguay and exporters of citrus and US importers of citrus.”

In 2018, Longstreth joined a delegation of doctors from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to Uruguay to visit hospitals there, and the following year, 18 pediatric cardiologists from Uruguay came to CHOP for a week of training, he said.

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Fry said he’s excited to get started as Philadelphia rebounds from the pandemic. He hopes to host his first event some time this winter, he said.

“This is another way in which Philadelphia can kind of open up again,” he said. “The more we can build meaningful relationships with friends from other countries, the more we should do that.”

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