Saturday, June 8, 2013
To share a private message with Chris's family, please send an email to RememberingChrisStevens@gmail.com.
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Chris had a passion for building bridges between the peoples of the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States. In this spirit, a fund has been established in his name to support this important, yet unfinished, endeavor.
It’s an honor to represent the class of 2013 in this dedication in memory of a great member of our National War College family, Ambassador Christopher Stevens of the class of 2010. I would like to acknowledge and thank all members of Chris’ family who are here with us today to honor the legacy of a fellow War College Warrior.
To quote from Thucydides, that we have studied here as students:
“For the whole earth is the tomb of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”
Today, while we commemorate Ambassador Stevens with this plaque as a scholar, statesman, and inspiration, we also honor his memory in our hearts. With hope, optimism and a respect for different cultures, he embodied the War College essence in his efforts to promote peace and conflict resolution in his work in the Middle East and North Africa by seizing opportunities to make cultural connections, bridge gaps and strengthen partnerships in order to improve relations between the Muslim world and the West.
Ambassador Stevens epitomized the spirit of the National War College leader: honor, courage, passionate determination, and skill. He was a strategic thinker with an abundance of creative energy and enduring commitment to his own country as well as the foreign lands in which he served as a foreign service officer.
As the class of 2013 prepares to graduate shortly, we will take with us the enduring memory of this National War College Warrior and honor his example in our future endeavors. And as this tree which is designated in his honor grows, so does his spirit inspire and grow in the hearts of every new class of warriors.
Remarks by Maria Trejo, VP of the NDU Class of 2013
Honouring the late US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens
All My Best Regards!
Mohammad Bin Lamin
Portrait (The-Ambassador J Christopher Stevens)
By Libyan Artists: Mohammad Bin Lamin
2013 - Misurata LIBYA
On April 18, 2013, the Center for Civic Mediation in Los Angeles awarded its Louis M. Brown Conflict Prevention Award to Ambassador Chris Stevens in an evening dedicated to his memory. I was honored to be asked to speak about Chris from our days in high school and college. What follows are my slightly edited remarks…
Thank you, Jill. I am so happy to be here, and to be a part of this evening honoring the work and legacy of my friend Chris Stevens.
This is a very special night for me for several reasons: As it happens, today, April 18th. would have been Chris’s 53rd birthday. In fact, today’s also my 53rd birthday and I can think of no better way to spend it than by being here with you tonight celebrating the life and memory of my old friend.
Tonight is also special because Chris’s parents are here tonight — all four of them — and if you want to talk about the man he was, you have to talk about the family he came from. He’s the son of lawyers and artists — his mother plays the cello and his father is an environmental lawyer who puts the do in do-gooder. Thirty-two years ago tonight, when Chris and I were roommates together at the University of California at Berkeley, we shared our 21st birthday together, and Mary and Bob Commanday, Chris’s mom and stepfather, showed up at our fraternity house at midnight with my parents. They brought pizza and beer for the entire house. Chris always knew how to Honor An Occasion, and he learned it from these people right here. (Can you believe that was the first time we’d ever had any beer? I’m not under oath tonight, am I?)
I met John Christopher Stevens at Piedmont High School, in northern California. Chris and his family moved to Piedmont I think when we were juniors, and he quickly made an impact, both socially and academically. He was disgustingly handsome, blond haired, blue-eyed, a good student, had a seemingly effortless rapport with the ladies, was a terrific athlete who played tennis and skiied, a musician who sang and played the saxophone, was editor-in-chief of the high school paper, and was also a member of AFS, the American Field Service, which organizes student foreign exchange programs, which allowed Chris to spend the summer before his senior year in Spain. You know — just another typical underachieving high school student. But I love the AFS page in our 1977 yearbook: There’s a picture of Chris and underneath it is one of the understatements of the century. It says, “This summer, Chris Stevens will be living abroad.” Chris spent almost the next thirty-five years living abroad.
Our paths crossed regularly in the Piedmont High music and theatre departments, where we performed together in definitive high school productions of Music Man and The Mikado, but I really got to know Chris when we both rushed the ATO fraternity at Cal. That’s where I first really witnessed the Chris Stevens Charm in action, and began to see the seeds of the diplomat he would eventually become. I went into these parties nervous, thinking I have to tell them all about me! and how fabulous and interesting I am! But Chris took a different approach: he was poised, confident, talking sincerely and enthusiastically about his interests and activities, but then he would always quickly and smoothly turn the conversation around and ask the ATO guys about their interests and their activities. Everybody loves talking about themselves, and everybody loves the guy who asks, ‘Hey, tell me about you.’
But I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. Chris could also be a goofball. We had a shared love of Monty Python and Tom Lehrer songs. Yes, he was confident and outgoing, but he was also self-deprecating, a quick and ready laugher who enjoyed seeing the absurdities of college life. But as I said, he loved a sense of occasion, whether it was taking a date to the symphony or dressing up for ATO’s annual Great Gatsby party. There’s a picture of the two of us from one of the Gatsby parties circling the Internet, in which Chris is absolutely rocking an ascot. Not many guys can get away with an ascot (or even should). But Chris could and definitely did. I guess at some level I thought Chris was perfect for the foreign service because they wear tuxedos and white dinner jackets every day, don’t they? It’s basically like Downton Abbey, I think.
But one thing I never understood was Chris’s love of running. I’m an actor: I love staying up late and sleeping even later. But no matter how late Chris stayed up studying or…let’s just say studying…he was always up early, going for a jog. And this was true his entire life, whether it was in the hills of Berkeley or the olive groves of Libya, he loved his daily run.
We were both History majors at Cal but while I was a double-major in Drama, it seemed like Chris was a double major in everything else. I think Chris took a course in just about every department on campus: English, Drama, Economics, Forestry, Urban Development, Logic, Philosophy, Art History, Geology, Italian, I’m sure there are many I’ve forgotten. Chris was the walking embodiment of the liberal arts ideal. His knowledge was broad and deep, his curiosity was limitless, and by the time he left Cal he was a Renaissance man who could talk to anybody about anything in any part of the world.
I directed three musicals while we were at Cal and gave Chris a part in all of them. Because first of all, the guy loved playing dress-up and putting on costumes — you gotta use that. And onstage — just as he was in every other part of his life — Chris was poised, comfortable, and confident. He was unflappable. You could not flap him. He was impervious to flappage. He was flap-free. He wasn’t a prima donna. He was a team player. He could step downstage for his solo moment and then step back upstage to be a member of the ensemble. Later, of course, Chris joined the Peace Corps and the foreign service, and then stepped out onto the world stage, and when he did the American community theatre lost a valuable character man and second baritone.
Chris and I roomed together at Cal for two years, and in our junior year, we had a third roommate, Steve McDonald, who’s here tonight. Steve refers to Chris as a “jazz diplomat”. Chris loved the give and take of jazz, and the analogy to diplomacy seems pretty strong, at least to me, but then I’m a drama major. But both jazz and diplomacy involve a solid structure and natural progressions and a complete command of the notes you’re supposed to play, but both also involve improvisation, requiring the players to listen to each other, give each other respect, let each person step forward and have their moment while the others provide support and counterpoint. It’s all about communication. It’s why we’re here tonight.
But jazz is also about the notes you don’t play. Chris also knew the power of silence, when he’d sit quietly sipping coffee while waiting for a colleague, or even an adversary, to reveal the information Chris needed. He proved especially adept at this whenever my wife and I would pry him for his true feelings about the various politicians he worked for or served under. He never revealed those thoughts to us. He was too classy.
Everybody liked Chris. Chris was always the guy who said yes. If I said, “Hey, let’s put on a show,” Chris said yes. If the fraternity said, “Hey, let’s put on a theme party that requires us to play dress-up and wear an ascot,” Chris said yes. If somebody said, “Hey, let’s go to this exotic restaurant or foreign country where none of us knows the food or speaks the language,” Chris said yes. He was fearless. In the theatre, this is how you build scenes through improvisation, by agreeing with and being in a consensus with your fellow actors. It’s how you build friends in life. It’s how you build nations and diplomacy. Chris commanded respect by giving respect.
And when Secretary of State Hilary Clinton asked him to serve, first as special envoy to the opposition then as Ambassador to Libya, Chris said yes.
The last time we saw Chris was in Washington DC on my son’s birthday in the summer of 2010, when I was performing at the Kennedy Center and he had just graduated fromthe War College. He sat up with us until 3 am, and it wasn’t until later that we realized how remarkable the evening was because — we got Chris to talk about himself and wouldn’t let him turn the conversation back around to us. He told us that at his War College graduation he resisted the temptation to concoct his own uniform with a sash and plumed hat and dime-store medallions. We asked him about his time prior to that stationed in Tripoli, and he told us the Libyans were a wonderful people and shouldn’t have to live like that under Kaddafi. At that moment, he didn’t know he’d be returning to Libya, but it was clear in 2010 he loved the Libyan people and wanted to help them achieve a measure of freedom and democracy.
He also told us that night that he frequently played tennis with the Libyan ambassador. When my wife asked him who won, Chris smiled and said “you never beat the ambassador.” That’s the main reason we were so excited when Chris was finally named ambassador — he’d finally get to win at tennis. I immediately asked whether his new post would give him the power to choose who plays him in the movie made about his life, because, you know, I got my own career to think about and I wanted to throw my hat in the ring. Chris emailed me back and said, and I quote: “I really admire your acting talents, but I was thinking more along the lines of Matt Damon. I envision the film as an Oceans 11 sequel, North African style.” Always the diplomat: complimenting me while at the same time not backing down from his position. Jerk.
As new pledges at ATO, we were required to learn and recite the ATO Creed, written by Otis Allan Glazebrook in 1880. At the time, they were just words to me, words I had to memorize as an assignment before I could move on to the next thing. But I’ve thought about those words a lot since Chris died. Part of the creed says: “To know no north, no south, no east, no west, but to know man as man; to teach that true men the world over should stand together and contend for supremacy of good over evil; to teach not politics but morals; to foster not partisanship but the recognition of true merit wherever found; to have no narrower limits within which to work together for the elevation of man than the outlines of the world.”
I can count on one finger the person I know who embodies those words.
I miss Chris every day. I miss his insight into world affairs, I miss the feeling that the world was a better safer place with him in it. I miss hearing the jokes I’m sure he would make about American diplomacy now being conducted by Dennis Rodman. I have been very moved by the testimonials from those who met him and worked with him since the years I got to know him at Cal. They all without exception describe the same outgoing, optimistic, cheerful, romantic person I knew. He still had that same big toothy grin and infectious sense of humor that captivated everyone who knew him around the world. He still took his work seriously without taking himself seriously. He still loved running. He could still pull off an ascot. Despite every reason not to, he remained optimistic that the world could be made a better place.
You should know, I’m not a religious person. I generally don’t look to ancient texts for enlightenment, except possibly Shakespeare and every once in a while Star Trek. But like everyone else, I sometimes need guidance, perspective, and in the last seven months since Chris died, in moments of stress or frustration or anger, I have asked myself, “WWJD?What would JohnChristopherStevens Do?” I know he would take a breath, take a step back, take a run, sip some coffee, sip some sherry, watch a sunset, listen to some music — possibly a little Coltrane playing A Night in Tunisia, but more likely some early 80s soft-rock — and he would remind me that there are more good guys than bad guys, we have more in common than we don’t have in common, that we need to be diligent and better about communicating our point of view, and that we do best and get the best results when we listen and engage with the other guy’s point of view.
I’m so glad my children got to meet Chris. Sadly, this week reminds us that their are villains in the world, people who would wish us harm. But there are also heroes. My kids got to meet a real hero in Chris Stevens. Real heroes don’t wear capes. As we saw in Boston, sometimes they wear running shoes — or an ascot.
April 18, 2013
April 18, 2011
Chris was in Benghazi for his 51st Birthday. I sent him an email from SF to wish him a happy Birthday. He wrote back:
“The day went by very quickly, I was so busy. No celebration - just a diplomatic dinner hosted by a British colleague. I forgot it was my birthday!
Ah SF, I miss those cold foggy days. I used to walk to work through Chinatown on my way to the Embarcadero. I’d see the old Chinese vegetable and fish merchants setting up their shops in the chilly mornings, chattering away in Mandarin and Cantonese. It made me feel like I was in a foreign country, and I loved it!”
Happy Birthday, Chris. I so dearly wish you were here to celebrate. You are missed even more as each day passes.
Happy Birthday, sir. I miss you.
Here is the text of the speech given by Mohammad bin Lamin at the opening of the Ambassador Stevens Art Exhibit at UC Davis:
Dear distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, It’s a honor for me today to stand before you, I cross the Atlantic to be here and honor people that “ love the other “ was their title in life, and without a nation like you with human and family values this wouldn’t have had happened.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The US-Libyan bond is older than the modern history we knew, these bonds go back to 1800s, and as today we got or freedom back with the help of our Western allies, especially the US, we are determent more than ever to reestablish that bonds even stronger, a good example of this relations is the social activities and common people interactions, Culture, Arts, Media, Music, Education and a rich history of common interest to make our planet a better place.
Ambassador Chris Stevens was one of those eager to open such channels, his social activities and traveling inside Libya made lots of Libyans become clear in understanding the Americans positively.
An example of Chris good well was his interest in Libyan Art and his insist to give his time to attend every single Art activity was held in the country.
In his last visit to “ ADIL “ photography exhibition, in which I was a partner, we had a quick first chat in which I have discovered a simple open minded personality, a down to earth and -human love full- person.
It was only twenty minutes of conversation but it was enough to feel that I was talking to a person who really care about the others, and it was also enough twenty minutes for him to accept my invitation to visit Misratah my city.
His support to me was one of the reasons that gave me the inspiration and courage to give more, and may success in the last event in UAE go somehow back to Chris’s support. His support to the first 24/7 VOAMis radio in my city Misratah was another example. VOAM is an affiliate of VOA Music Mix that was immediately started after the liberation and signed an agreement with the BBG US to rebroadcast 24/7 and took responsibility for all the finance and costs. From my close follow up to the Radio activities I learned that Chris wrote several emails encouraging the owner to expand the rebroadcast to Tripoli, he was eager to make it happen, he wanted to bring Libyans and Americans closer.
Therefore we commit ourselves to continue what we have started together with Chris and make his dream come true.
An other example of our historic relations, is the movie “Tripoli” that was expected to lunch on 2007 about the US-Libyan war on 1805, in which Keanu Reeves supposed to play William Eaton, this could have been an impressive way to show the strength of those bonds.
If we recall history and look closely at the facts that the first US flag raised on the other side of the Atlantic was in Derna Libya December 8, 1805, our beloved capital Tripoli is mentioned in the Marine hymn and a copy of the Libyan traditional Sword is on the side of every single US Marine, then we will get the strength and momentum to work together even stronger to make better day for our new generations.
My friend the American poet Dennis McHale sent to me these grieving words about our beloved Ambassador Chris, Please allow me to read it to you
Oh, Brother! Heaven your great soul does claim
As we humbly sing of your immortal fame;
Libya’s vast beauty you did us engage,
For you sought nobler objects in our civil rage:
And, with wise conduct, to your country showed
The hope, the promise on this land bestowed.
The crown of a hero you now must wear,
On your victorious head, lay prostrate there.
We that loved you, grieve, concerned to see
Such a price for liberty, which is never free.
Angels weep at such an untimely death
We Libyans mourn with a single breath
Finally I would like to thank every person made this event reality and would like to offer you our hand to visit our country one day, where you will find all warmth and love from all of the ordinary Libyans.