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Remembering the life of Robert Muller, a Global Citizen


Robert Muller couldn’t say enough about world peace.

“He made 40,000 speeches all over the world. He had five speeches a day,” Barbara Gaughen-Muller, his wife, told the News-Press. “He was so inspirational. He was always able to see what the world needed right then and there.”

Dr. Muller played an instrumental role in China’s admission to the United Nations, and Ms. Gaughen-Muller, a Goleta resident, noted he was involved with starting one-third of the U.N.’s 30-plus agencies.

Dr. Muller, who worked his way from an intern to the assistant secretary-general during his 40 years at the U.N., focused on social and economic programs. He played a role in the beginning of the World Health Organization and the U.N. World Food Program. He died in 2010 and is buried in the Goleta Cemetery, but his legacy continues as the United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary. 

“He (Robert Muller) had a view of the world that was more expansive than anybody I ever talked to,” said Douglas Gillies, author of “Prophet: The Hatmaker’s Son — The Life of Robert Muller.”

The milestone led Ms. Gaughen-Muller, 79, to remind people about a book about Dr. Muller: “Prophet: The Hatmaker’s Son — The Life of Robert Muller” by Douglas Gillies (East Beach Press, 2003, $24.95). It’s available at Mr. Gillies, 72, a longtime attorney and Santa Barbara resident, told the News-Press he conducted more than 40 interviews with Dr. Muller.

The book begins with Dr. Muller’s trip to China with Secretary General Kurt Waldheim and continues with an exploration of the late Goleta resident’s childhood in Europe during World War II and his U.N. career.

Dr. Muller was born in Belgium and grew up in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France/Germany. He experienced Nazi oppression during World War II and was a member of the French Resistance. After the war, he earned his doctorate in law at the University of Strasbourg. In 1948, he entered and won an essay contest on how to govern the world.

The prize?

A United Nations internship.

Dr. Muller accepted the prize, which changed his life. And he helped to change the world, working behind the scenes for 40 years at the United Nations, where he was called the “Philosopher” and “Prophet of Hope.” He also created the World Core Curriculum, which earned him the UNESCO Peace Education Prize in 1989. And he was nominated many times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

After his retirement from the U.N., Dr. Muller served as the chancellor of the University of Peace, created by the U.N. in demilitarized Costa Rica. “He had a view of the world that was more expansive than anybody I ever talked to,” said Mr. Gillies, a Long Beach native who earned his law degree in 1972 at UCLA and worked as a trial attorney. “He envisioned a world where we all would be able to live together cooperatively and support each other and prosper as friends rather than becoming enemies,” said the author, who moved to Santa Barbara in 1988 from San Francisco. 

He and Ms. Gaughen-Miller met Dr. Muller during the 1990s at a retreat at La Casa de Maria in Montecito. The man devoted to peace impressed them both. “He simply wasn’t part of the political wrangling,” Mr. Gillies said. “He saw the world as a beautiful place.”

In the early 1970s, Dr. Muller worked behind the scenes toward admitting China, the world’s most populous nation, into the U.N. He inserted China into the speeches he wrote for Secretary General Waldheim. The secretary-general kept removing the references to China, but undaunted, Dr. Muller kept writing them in. “Finally, the U.N. secretary-general said, ‘I’m tired of crossing it out,’ ” Ms. Gaughen-Muller said. 

Secretary General Waldheim started speaking in favor of China’s admission.

Dr. Muller accompanied Secretary General Waldheim on a trip to China, where they met officials including Premier Zhou Enali.  Mr. Gillies said the premier silently acknowledged Dr. Muller’s contribution to the trip by turning toward him.

In 1971, the U.N. General Assembly approved China’s admission.

Dr. Muller dreamed of a world living in peace and justice. “He never saw color. He never saw race,” Ms. Gaughen-Miller said. “He saw a human heart that was meant to live in paradise, which is our Earth.” In 1996, Dr. Muller ran as a global citizen unsuccessfully for U.N. Secretary-General, but Ms. Gaughen-Miller said she persuaded him that  the internet could be used to spread his positive messages around the world. You can find them at

Ms. Gaughen-Miller recalled the time Dr. Muller and she were in Italy, where he was overseeing a conference on peace. He saw trash on a beach on the island of Sardinia  and started cleaning it. “I said, ‘Robert, what are you doing?’ “He said, ‘This has to be clean. We’re never too important to do what’s needed.’ ” When Dr. Muller talked about that later, it made headlines and inspired others to take action, Ms. Gaughen-Miller said.

“Every year, they have to clean the beach. It’s all because of Robert.”


“Prophet: The Hatmaker’s Son — The Life of Robert Muller” by Douglas Gillies (East Beach Press, 2003, $24.95) is available at


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