I learned about the death of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke from Martha Stewart. I was reading my Twitter time line and it was her tweet that gave me the news that we all sensed was coming. I don’t mean to turn the death of Mr. Holbrooke into one of those “Where were you when you heard the news” moments and I don’t mean to mock the death of this American hero but it is somehow fitting that Martha Stewart would be break the news to me.
Ambassador Holbrooke lived in the rarefied world that is the inhabited by “The Elites” and I am not using Elites as a derisive term the way Sarah Palin refers to anyone with an education or influence or who has read a book. A great culture needs it’s elites for those geeky history buffs from small cities in Pennsylvania to admire and aspire to become.
Richard Holbrooke was born and raised in New York City the child of Jewish parents who fled the Holocaust but chose to raise their child as a Quaker in order to expand his world view. He is a graduate of both Brown and Princeton. A few weeks after his graduation Mr. Holbrooke answered the clarion call from his generations most shining light, John F. Kennedy. Mr. Holbrooke entered the Foreign Service and within a year he was fluent in Vietnamese and sent off to that hot-spot. Within 6 years he was participating in the Paris peace talks. During the early 70’s he left the Foreign Service and became the managing editor of the very influential Foreign Policy magazine and contributed to Newsweek. During the Carter administration he served as Assistant Secretary of State. Bill Clinton then appointed him Ambassador to Germany and then promoted him Assistant Secretary for Canada and Europe. There is a revolving door in the foreign policy business and Mr. Holbrooke left to return to the private sector and think tanks. He was called back to service as a civilian special envoy to the Balkans. It is in this role that Mr. Holbrooke earned his place in the history books. He was the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords which led to a lasting peace in what was Yugoslavia. In 1999 he was appointed to be the 22nd Ambassador to the United Nations.
Throughout all these years Richard Holbrooke could also found going to the best parties, attending fundraising galas and was often seen on the Society Pages of the New York Times. He was invited to dinner with Brooke Astor, gave insightful interviews on PBS, wrote policy papers that transformed the way governments around the world treated each other and was the toast of highest echelons of Washington, London, Paris, Tokyo and Beijing society. His widow is the frequent Vanity Fair contributing writer Kati Marton who was the third ex-wife of ABC newsman Peter Jennings. Holbrooke traveled in that rare world of money men, trophy wives, power brokers, media types, great authors, TV stars and academics. He was profiled endlessly by the reporters of NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the great newspapers around the world this week will note his passing with 1,000 of words of commentary. Brian Williams tonight gave his passing an entire segment between commercial breaks on the NBC Evening News.
Richard Holbrooke will be remembered as a great diplomat, a great thinker and a man who could make things happen. He brought warlords together and forced them into peace, he mobilized the global business community to join the global fight against AIDS, TB and Malaria. He was a board member for some of the greatest institutes and think tanks as well as the Museum of Natural History.
Most significantly Ambassador Richard Holbrooke never lost sight of his reason for entering government service in the first place, John Kennedy’s call to service. Richard Holbrooke served his nation well; he served it with dignity, class and sophistication. John F. Kennedy’s peers, the men and women he brought into government with him are often referred to as “The Best and Brightest”. Richard Holbrooke was too young to be considered one of them but he was certainly one of the best and brightest of his generation. He has left his nation stronger. He solidified this nation’s role in the world and he brought peace, stability and hope to large sections of the globe.
Take a moment this week to learn more about the remarkable man and one of my hero’s.