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In Memoriam: Paul Olson

Lifelong international educator leaves a legacy of service
By Margie Olson
In Memoriam: Paul Olson

Paul Olson was born on 29 December 1948 to Dr. Clitus Olson and nurse Dorothy Nord Olson. He was the oldest of four children and spent most of his childhood in the Belgian Congo, where his parents were medical missionaries. He learned to speak Lingala and French as a child and loved exploring and learning local customs from his Congolese playmates. In 1967, he graduated from the American School of Kinshasa (TASOK).
Paul attended North Park University in Chicago and graduated magna cum laude in 1971 with a major in Philosophy and a minor in African Studies. As a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, Paul returned to the Congo where he taught for two years in Congolese secondary schools as his alternative service. It was then that he discovered his passion for teaching. In the summer of 1972, he and two adventurous childhood friends hiked the Ruwenzori Mountains, also known as the Mountains of the Moon, in Eastern Congo.
In 1975, he married Margaret (Margie) Warner, also a teacher. After completing his master’s degree in Social Studies Education at Boston University, he and Margie began their adventure together as teachers in international schools overseas. Between 1977–2011, they lived and worked in seven countries in Africa and Latin America, beginning with Tanzania and El Salvador. Always the adventurer, Paul immersed himself in the languages and cultures of each country. He enjoyed both deep sea and fly fishing, kept marine aquariums, owned several boats, and played guitar and sang in musical groups—notably the Cockroaches, the Wellies, and the Tatterdemalians.
From 1987–1992, Paul and Margie returned to the United States to do graduate work at the University of Arizona and fell in love with Tucson. Paul honored his life-long interest in writing by completing his MFA in Fiction. While teaching part time in Tucson public schools, he also completed courses for a school superintendent certification. In May 1991, Paul and Margie welcomed daughter Lena into their family.
Paul was Deputy Director and then Director of international and American schools in Somalia, Rwanda, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. As an administrator, he was admired for his collaborative leadership style, his recruitment and communication skills, his strong work ethic, and his steadiness in times of crisis. In 1994, Paul received the National Distinguished Principal award from the National Association of Elementary School Principals for his leadership of Kigali International School during the evacuation and subsequent genocide in Rwanda. He also served as a board member of the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) for nearly ten years.
After “retirement” in 2011, Paul and Margie returned to Tucson. Not one to sit idle, Paul took on two short-term interim positions: as Secondary Principal at his alma mater, TASOK; and as Interim Director of the International School of Dakar, Senegal. Both schools were happy to have someone with his experience and background to provide stability and guidance.
In 2014, Paul officially retired, intending to spend time traveling, writing, and fishing. Life, however, took a different turn. In his last two years, Paul dealt with heart and liver disease, and finally, bone marrow cancer. He faced these challenges with great dignity and courage, and kept his sense of humor to the end.
Paul is survived by his spouse Margie; daughter Lena; sisters Eleanor Bowman, Barbara Molina, and Joan Harding; five nieces; five nephews; twenty-one great nieces and nephews; and an international family that loved him and will miss him very much.
During retirement, Paul served as a board member of two organizations. The family would be honored by your memorial contributions to either of these groups:
Paul’s father was one of the founding professors of medicine at the Université Protestante au Congo. Education Congo supports this and several other Congolese Universities, and provides scholarships for students. To donate to the Olson family’s scholarship fund, visit the website Click “donate” and “donate now.” Under “gift information,” look for “named fund” and scroll down to select “Olson, Dr. and Mrs. Clitus, MD.”
Old Pueblo Trout Unlimited is part of a nationwide organization dedicated to preserving and restoring trout habitat. Donations can be sent to Roseanne Marsett, Treasurer, 5031 N. Calle Tobosa, Tucson, AZ, 85749.

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01/21/2024 - Wabo
09/15/2023 - Susan Sargent Music Teacher / Addis
Margie, I am so sorry to read this. Paul was such a kind, decent, intelligent man. I am honored to say I knew him and worked with him. The two of you were a wonderful support to me.
05/31/2021 - Mr Isaac Maurice Esilaba
I want to thank God for this opportunity to pass my condolences to the family of the late Paul Olson. I got to know Paul Olson way back in1993,when I received a letter from him as the director of Kigali international school inviting me to work as a private special needs tutor for a student with special needs who had been admitted at kis.I left Nairobi for Kigali to take up the opportunity Mr Paul Olson had offered me without delay for he had indicated the urgency of the need for me to be there. When I reported at KIS on the first day,I was introduced to Mr Paul Olson by my host who was the parent of the child with special needs ,the late Mr fanuel makanga a diplomat at the Kenya embassy in Kigali.I was absolutely very happy to meet this wonderful man Paul Olson because he naturally was very very jovial, welcoming and I just felt the warm relationship that was about Mr Paul Olson. All through the entire time I worked at KIS,I came to understand Mr Paul Olson as wonderful administrator,educator and of course the best director I've ever encountered in my entire life. My time with Paul was cut short due to the eruption of war in Rwanda, even though I still managed to meet him after at the international school if Kenya after escaping the war.I continued to communicate with Paul later on after he relocated to the USA till 1995 when I received the last communication from him.distance kept us a part but Paul was always in my heart. It's only recently that I got the shock of my life time .I was on the net searching for Paul when I came across this sad news of his passing on.I'm terribly sad for loosing such a wonderful person who elevated Me professionally to the international condolences to Maggie Olson ,the daughter's, Lena and the entire AISA,TIE.may his soul RIP.
05/08/2021 - Patricie Kayirangwa
Hi, am so happy to have been given this opportunity to say something about, Mr Olison, I call him my “HERO”, him and his wise Marge with their Daughter who was a-little Prince in 1994 during Genocide in Rwanda, save my life! Few months before the war in Rwanda ????, the killers (interahamwe), come to my place where I lived with my sister, I was toured bitten to death, but with God’s love for me, am still alive! Anyways to cut the story short, a friend passed by my house after having heard the news that I would have been killed! Good enough we were hiding in a neighbours house. This friend called the American Embassy then who contacted Mr Olison about me! Then Mr Olison with some my colleagues who worked as care takers at KIS, come and rescued us! Good enough my sister wasn’t touched, but I was half died really! Bleeding my face was swollen etc! Mr Olison took us to his residence, whereby I got treatment, we were looked after as their own kids, till I got better then we left their residence, I remember that was in February 1994, then things got worse in April, I never had a chance of saying thanks to the Olison family, as I didn’t know there were about! I live in Uk ???? now, with my daughter Caroline and 2 beautiful grandchildren children, Brianna and Jayden! Mrs Olison and ur family I love ?? you so much! I hope you still remember me, I use to work in the same class with Denise Selsman etc!I wish I could meet up with you and give you, a massive big hug ?? ! Please keep Mr Olison’s legends he was such a good man ????!
Patricie Kayirangwa



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