The Voice of America’s first female director was also the youngest. She had already been the youngest individual and the first woman to head a public television station, when she served as director of Hawaii Public Television at the age of 30. Dr. Mary Bitterman presided over VOA during the latter months of the 555 days Iran held 52 Americans hostage. There were also periods of turmoil in Afghanistan, Liberia, and Poland, and a resurgence of jamming against Western international broadcasters.
Bitterman’s accomplishments at VOA are many: Through her personal connections in China, she arranged the first exchange of broadcasters between VOA and China; she began VOA’s Dari broadcasting after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; she worked to ensure the safety of more than 250 U.S. international broadcasting personnel during Liberia’s bloody coup d’etat; and coped with the jamming of VOA Polish at the rise of the Solidarity trade union. Her experience in executive communications-based roles aided her in becoming an effective director who confidently steered VOA while steadfastly supporting the VOA Charter and Mission.
Since 2004, Dr. Bitterman has been president of The Bernard Osher Foundation, a San Francisco-based philanthropic organization. A deep believer in lifelong learning in all its forms, Mary has led the Foundation’s efforts to enhance quality of life by supporting higher education and the arts. The arts, including cultural exhibitions and performances, as well as postsecondary scholarships have been integral to the Foundation’s grant-making since its start in 1977. Since 2005, scholarship emphasis has been placed on returning students eager to pursue baccalaureate degrees at institutions of higher education across the United States.