In Memoriam: Joe Jeffs

Joseph Jeffs in his office in 1969.

Joseph E. Jeffs (C’49), age 98, Georgetown’s University Librarian from 1960–1990, passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, on the evening of April 22, 2023. As University Librarian, Jeffs oversaw the construction of Lauinger Library, helped to modernize the Library’s cataloging system, and established the Library’s Special Collections and Archives Division. He also worked tirelessly to enhance the Library’s collections, and in 1983, he accepted the Library’s one millionth volume, a 1669 copy of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Jeffs’ scholarly work included editing A Catalogue of Books on Asia Minor and the Turkish Ottoman Empire. More recently, he and his wife Jeannine published A Graham Greene Memoir, which documents their relationship with the author. Jeffs first wrote to Greene in 1979 to inquire about acquiring his papers. Over the years, Jeffs built a significant Graham Greene collection at Georgetown, but also a close personal friendship. He and his wife Jeannine made several trips to visit Greene and his partner Yvonne Cloetta in England and France, and hosted them for a visit to Washington and a standing-room only presentation in Gaston Hall.

Jeffs was born July 1, 1924, in Philadelphia. After serving with the US Army Air Corps in Europe during World War II, Jeffs earned his bachelor’s of science degree from Georgetown in 1949 and soon became assistant librarian at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. With a master’s of science in library science from Catholic University, he joined the staff at Georgetown University Library in 1954, where he was promoted to University Librarian in 1960. Upon his retirement, Jeffs built an antiquarian book business and self-published four books.

Jeffs was also a defender of human rights and peace, joining the 1963 March on Washington, serving as chair of Rockville, Maryland’s Human Rights Commission in 1966, and working for years advocating for local anti-discrimination laws. In 1989, shortly before his retirement, he received the John Carroll Award from the Georgetown University Alumni Association in recognition of his volunteer and civic achievement.

See a gallery of photos from Jeffs' career and life on Google Photos.

Contributions in honor of Joe Jeffs can be made to the Joseph and Jeannine Jeffs Book Endowment Fund at the Georgetown University Library, which was established in 1990 upon his retirement.