I met Nick Rey in the winter of 2007 at the suggestion of a mutual friend. Nick had come up with the idea of creating a Cuban Enterprise Fund modeled after the Enterprises Funds created by Congress to assist the development of private enterprise in post-communist Eastern Europe. His time as U.S. Ambassador to Poland during that nation’s transition to democracy and his service as Director of the Polish-American Enterprise Fund had convinced him that empowering the Cuban people to become entrepreneurs would have the same consolidating effect for democracy in Cuba that it had in Eastern Europe. Few people in Washington have had the opportunities that Nick did to live a transition first-hand, to work hand-in-hand with dissidents and to help build a democracy out of a failed authoritarian state. Nick’s belief in the ability of the Cuban Enterprise Fund to improve the quality of life for millions of Cubans, to generate private enterprise on the island and to help consolidate democracy in the hemisphere’s last vestige of Communism deserves careful consideration.

Nick had a special place in his heart for Cuba; “after all” he would explain “my wife has Cuban blood in her family.” As a Board Member of the National Democratic Institute, Nick was a steadfast supporter of programs aimed to assist Cuban dissidents. After a long life of public service and after giving back to his native Poland and his adopted country, Nick wanted to take the experiences he had learned in Eastern Europe and use them to help the island he loved so much. When I last met with Nick during the holidays, he believed his health was on the mend and told me he was ready to push the idea of the Cuban Enterprise Fund through the new U.S. Congress, where so many members had been supportive of the idea in Eastern Europe. He said he was grateful for all the opportunities he had had to serve during his life but said he had one last piece of unfinished business, “I want to leave a legacy for Cuba before I leave this earth,” he confessed. 

I was lucky to have called Nicholas Rey my friend. His selflessness, calm demeanor, wise counsel and unconditional friendship were humbling and inspirational. Like his many friends and beloved family, I will be eternally grateful for his friendship and his guidance. But Nick touched many more souls, people whose lives are better today because of his commitment to service millions of Poles who today live in a thriving democracy, thousands of entrepreneurs in Eastern Europe who built thriving businesses thanks to the support of the Enterprise Funds, dissidents in Cuba who receive support and guidance thanks to Nick’s love for Cuba and countless others whose lives and that of their families are better today than before Nick set his sights on the injustices that held them back.

Sadly, Nick’s work was cut short by illness, but his dream of leaving a legacy for Cuba was not. The Cuban Enterprise Fund proposal was unveiled in the summer of 2007 and those of us who he inspired with his passion and whom he entrusted with this important initiative will work tirelessly to see it brought to fruition. After all, no legacy would be more befitting Nick than one that selflessly helps improve the lives of millions of Cubans who only dream of a better life for their families.

Ambassador Nicholas Rey passed away at his home in Washington, DC on January 14, 2009. He is survived by his wife Louisa and their children Cecilia, Anthony and Michael. 

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Date Title
1/16/09 Current Record