Frances Brown Paulu was the executive director of the Minnesota International Center — now Global Minnesota — for 18 years. But she remained active with the nonprofit after retiring in 1988.
“She was still part of the process,” said Global Minnesota Executive Director Mark Ritchie. “She was coming to events. She was the life of our organization.”
Paulu died at her home in south Minneapolis on April 22. She was 99.
Ritchie, Minnesota’s former secretary of state, said Paulu “helped turn MIC from a very, very small group in a small arena, over the years into a substantial global organization that has given Minnesota an international reputation for welcoming international students.”
She was born on June 22, 1920, to Dr. Thomas and Florence Brown in Hastings. In an interview with the Star Tribune in 1988, she recalled that her first job was as a 13-year-old, writing social notes and feature stories for a weekly Hastings newspaper.
She graduated from Hastings High School — as valedictorian — at the age 14. She attended Carleton College in Northfield before graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1940. After graduation, she went to work as the office manager at the University of Minnesota radio station. There she met Burton Paulu. They were married in 1942.
During World War II she was a graduate student at the U in social work and was a caseworker for welfare agencies. She also began a lifelong commitment to volunteering. Through the years, she served as president of the Minneapolis League of Women Voters, served on the Minneapolis Charter Commission and was a director for the Urban Coalition. She started at MIC in 1970.
“She had a passion for international students, how they were welcomed here and supported here,” said Ritchie. “She helped create an organization to welcome students and to be a part of their life while they were here.”
Through her work with international organizations, she traveled to 40 countries. After retiring in 1988, she and her husband continued to travel. In fall 1991, they ventured to Moscow. On that trip, Burton Paulu, who was associated with the University of Minnesota for 50 years — at the radio station, as a professor and as the director of the Media Resources Department — became the first American to teach a full-length course in the Soviet Union on Western broadcast media. They were in Moscow in late December when the USSR collapsed.
Burton Paulu died in 2003. The couple had been married 61 years.
“We called her Nana,” said granddaughter Jennifer Boittin. “She filled her home with fascinating objects and photo albums. Brushing your fingers over them led to stories of places she had been. She was thoughtful, freezing juice boxes that melted in time for lunch. Her birthday wishes found us on many continents, aspiring to be resolute and open-minded like her. Unassuming and curious, she asked the where and the what of our lives and then really listened. I most remember how, when she opened up her smile, it was happiness-inducing.”
Paulu remained active. She continued to volunteer with the University of Minnesota’s Women’s Club and the Becketwood Cooperative, where she lived. Five years ago, she gave a speech at a fundraiser for Global Minnesota. Her family said she stayed up until midnight the night before to perfect the speech.
Paulu is survived by daughters Sarah Paulu Boittin and Nancy Paulu Hyde, son Thomas Paulu, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and brother Judson Brown. A memorial service will be held at a later date.