Seaford to honor volunteer efforts of natives daughter

By Tony E. Windsor

Seaford city leaders and state representatives are planning to pay tribute to a 24-year-old woman killed while serving as a member of the Peace Corps in Africa. Kate Puzey, the daughter of 1963 Seaford High School graduate, Harry Puzey, is being honored for her volunteer teaching work in Benin, Africa, and for having given her life in service to the young people under her care.

Twenty four year old Kate Puzey was murdered after alerting superiors that she believed a man contracted by the Peace Corps was molesting and sleeping with female students at the school where she taught. In a letter she sent to the Peace Corps main office, she asked that something be done about the matter and recommended the man be terminated from his role in Benin. Shortly after the Peace Corps was notified about her accusations, Puzey was slain. Constant Bio was arrested in connection with the murder and remains in prison in Africa. He proclaims his innocence, saying he is being persecuted by America.

The incident was met with outrage from members of the United States government. In June 2011, a U.S. delegation, among them, Delaware Senator Chris Coons, traveled to Africa where they met with President Boni Yayi of Benin to seek justice in the Puzey case. In a two and a half hour meeting, Yayi was urged to allow the FBI to assist in the Kate Puzeys murder investigation. Yayi was also delivered a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterating the importance the United States placed on the Puzey case.

While Bio remains in prison with no definitive timeline for court proceedings, Kate Puzeys death became the fodder for an international plea for more stringent protection of Peace Corps volunteers around the world. Kates family, including father Harry, mother, Lois and brother, David, led a mission to help ensure that no other family would face the horror they had endured in losing their daughter and sister due to such a senseless act of violence.

Through news accounts, including a feature story on ABCs 20/20 television show and internet sites and postings, the Puzeys gained a groundswell of support. National figures, including Georgia Senator, Johnny Isakson, and California Senator, Barbara Boxer, took action to help use Kate Puzeys death as a call for revisiting the issue of safety in the Peace Corps.

This led to the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011. On Nov. 21, as Harry, Lois and David Puzey stood at his side President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law during a public ceremony at the White House.

Throughout her college years Kate Puzey worked with underprivileged children. Following graduation, she worked with the International Rescue Committee for a year. It was her compassion for other people, especially the disadvantaged and children, that led Kate to join the Peace Corps.

For two years she worked as a school teacher in the West African nation of Benin. While there, she championed issues of concern affecting women and children. Ultimately, it was her sense of loyalty and protection for the children she served that resulted in Kate Puzeys murder.

Today her family is still dealing with the loss of Kate, but has gained a sense of solace from the passing of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteers Protection Act of 2011. Receiving the news that the City of Seaford and the State of Delaware would be honoring their daughter left Seaford native Harry Pusey and his wife in tears.

Harry Puzey has credited his early years of growing up in Seaford and his mother, Irene Reynolds, for instilling in him the values that he has tried to pass on to his children. He said he is humbled that his hometown would embrace his daughters story in such a meaningful manner and he is very appreciative.

I just want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the city Mayor and Council and the State of Delaware for recognizing Kates efforts to bring hope to many people in Africa, he said. I appreciate so much that Delaware Senator Chris Coons was among those who went to Africa to speak on behalf of my daughter and our family in trying to seek some sense of justice for her murder. I know that Kate would be so proud of what has been accomplished in her name. Puzey also extended thanks to high school classmate Jim Blackwell for sharing his daughters story with media in Seaford.

Kate Puzeys mother, Lois, echoed her husbands sentiments and said the Seaford proclamation is most exciting to her family because it is coming from Harrys hometown. This City of Seaford proclamation is really an unexpected honor, she said. We have been so humbled by the outpouring of sympathy shown by friends and family in Seaford. It has meant so much throughout this long, sad journey. The legislation to protect Peace Corps Volunteers was really a labor of love for us. However, I hope that there are other young people that are inspired by Kates story and decide to try to make a difference in the world. However, unlike Kate, hopefully they will be able to not only follow their dream, but also return home safely to their families.

Harry Puzey, who suffers from advanced lung cancer, said he and his wife, Lois, are planning to be in Seaford for the proclamation ceremonies. We want very badly to be there for this honor, he said. As long as my health holds up, I promise you, we will be there.

Seaford Mayor Ed Butler and the City Council will present the proclamation honoring the month of December as Light of Kate Puzey Month in the city at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 13, prior to the start of the regular monthly city council meeting. In addition, State Representative Danny Short and State Sen. Bob Venables will be on hand to present tributes from the Delaware State House and Senate.

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