In the summer of 1963, Henry Bradsher and Monica Pannwitt met in India, where he was The Associated Press bureau chief for South Asia.
She was in a Fulbright program, living in a youth hostel, taking a course on how to teach English as a second language and eating a diet of food so hot that it gave her blisters in her mouth.
Her father, a journalist with the Chicago Daily News, asked the paper’s reporter in New Delhi to keep an eye on his daughter.
“My dad thought his daughter needed some protection,” she said.
Henry Bradsher learned about the attractive single American woman from one of his AP bosses in New York. So he invited her to a farewell dinner for Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith at the American Embassy.
“That was on a Tuesday. The following Monday, he asked me to marry him,” Monica Pannwitt Bradsher said.
Three weeks later, the two were married by a Christian magistrate in Old Delhi.
What followed were almost 40 years of adventures around the globe during Henry Bradsher’s more than two decades as a foreign correspondent and later in intelligence as a senior analyst for the CIA and Monica Bradsher’s lifelong career in education.
In 2000, they retired to Baton Rouge, where Henry Bradsher grew up, to continue a life as full and busy as their working careers.
At the time of his marriage, Henry Bradsher had already been in South Asia for 41/2 years. Within a year, he was given the assignment as AP bureau chief in Moscow.
“We spent five winters in Moscow,” Monica Bradsher said. “It was very bitterly cold.”
She returned to the United States for the birth of their first son, Keith.
“Henry arrived to see the new baby,” she said. “My parents had never met him.”
A second son, Neal, was born in Moscow.
Following a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, Henry Bradsher became Asia correspondent based in Hong Kong for the Washington Star.
“I was writing about China more than any other area,” he said. “I covered the last five years of the Vietnam War. I was traveling all over Asia and Japan. I covered the whole Bangladesh War, when East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh.”
For his work in Asia, Bradsher was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for international reporting in 1972 and won the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting in 1973.
He returned to Washington, D.C., to become the paper’s diplomatic correspondent traveling and reporting around the world. When the Star closed, he was recruited by the CIA for work as a senior analyst traveling to every continent except Antarctica.
Monica Bradsher spent her time in Hong Kong teaching at the Hong Kong International School. After a decade teaching abroad and in the U.S. and with a master’s in education from Harvard, she joined the staff of the National Geographic Society, where she worked to develop its first software programs for schools.
She later founded National Geographic Kids Network in collaboration with TERC Inc. (Technical Education Research Centers), a not-for-profit research and development organization dedicated to improving math, science and technology teaching and learning. The Kids Network science curriculum units have involved more than 1.5 million children and teachers in more than 50 countries.
“People all over the country are participating in this material she developed for National Geographic,” Henry Bradsher said.
Since their return to Baton Rouge, the Bradshers have become very involved in the community. Monica Bradsher serves as a Volunteers in Public Schools team leader at Bernard Terrace Elementary School, where both Bradshers are Reading and Math Friends to children in the school.
“They are the most dedicated people to this school,” Principal Demetric Alexander said. “They help academically. Just by coming, they have a tremendous impact on the students, having one special adult in their lives. It’s an extra role model.”
Frequently the children served by the VIPS program are from single-parent homes. They often enter school with limited vocabularies and little or no knowledge of the alphabet.
“There are not often people in their lives who keep promises,” Monica Brasher said. “We do (for them) what every middle-class parent does.”
She believes that by working with the youngest children in the school, those in kindergarten and first-grade, tutors have the opportunity to keep the children on grade level.
“If they haven’t had this kind of experience by third-grade and are doing poorly, it’s because they know they are falling behind,” she said. “Compare children who have had a Reading Friend with those who don’t, and at 20 visits from the tutor during the year, you see a real difference.”
Monica Bradsher also serves as secretary of Volunteer Louisiana, a state commission that oversees AmeriCorps and certain grants that come through the federal government. Even though this is a volunteer position, members of the commission are required to take the same ethics tests as if they were paid.
“We are charged with maintaining the public trust,” she said. “We supervise the grants.”
Both Bradshers are active with the International Hospitality Foundation. They regularly host students from four or five different countries by inviting them to meals and helping them when problems arise.
“I am the designated driver if they get stuff too big to get home,” said Henry Bradsher, who can be particularly helpful because he has lived and traveled in so many different countries.
“Practically any student I meet, I know something about their country,” he said.
He has worked in every country in Asia except North Korea and Brunei.
Several times a year, Henry Bradsher lectures on cruise ships. In February, he delivered 14 different lectures on a Pacific island cruise. Next year, he is scheduled to speak on three different cruises. His wife assists with the graphics and occasionally lectures on Russia or the culture of countries in which they have lived.
He is the author of two books about Afghanistan and writes articles on Asia for the yearbooks of World Book and Encyclopaedia Britannica as well as for other publications.
His latest book, “The Dalai Lama’s Secret and Other Reporting Adventures: Stories from a Cold War Correspondent,” published by the LSU Press, was released on Monday. It’s a lively account of experiences and adventures he had traveling the world as an award-winning journalist and is filled with Bradsher’s impressions of many of the history-makers he met along the way.
Both Bradshers are active at First United Methodist Church, in their neighborhood civic association and with such organizations as Together Baton Rouge. And they still love to travel, especially when they can see their sons and their families.
Keith Bradsher and his wife and three children live in Hong Kong, where he is New York Times bureau chief. Neal Bradsher has his own investment company in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Even with their travels, the Bradshers make a special effort to have at least 20 visits with their Reading and Math Friends every year.
“This is something we do more for our hearts,” Monica Bradsher said. “When I worked for National Geographic, our work affected hundreds of children, even though I never saw a child. When I work with VIPS one-on-one with a child, it’s a very special relationship.”