A Salaam Alaykum.

We’re here today to remember Chris Stevens - particularly his service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco from 1983 to 1985.  In some respects that’s a bit of an oxymoron:  In three decades, I haven’t come across anyone who met Chris Stevens who didn’t remember him quite well.  He was truly a remarkable person and made a profound impression on people he met. So we do remember him.

Thirty years ago next month, Chris Stevens had his first encounter with North Africa when he arrived for Peace Corps training in Azrou, a predominantly Berber town in Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains.  And North Africa had its first encounter with Chris Stevens.

It was evidently love at first sight, for North Africa and the Middle East kept calling him back; and Chris spent the better part of his life either working there, or moving the necessary levers so he could work in that part of the world.  I don’t doubt that his Peace Corps experience had something to do with that.

Chris spent two years living and working in the Middle Atlas mountains, in the small community of Ouaouizerth.  It was rural, rustic and a bit remote.  He was the only Volunteer in the community.  Like so many Peace Corps Volunteers, he was going to live life in a fishbowl.

So let me take you back to Morocco in the 1980s:  Here was Chris - 23 years old, tall, lanky, blond, and athletic.  And he was a Californian through and through.  In many respects he fit a stereotype of a young Californian.  He was a jogger - indeed a runner.  He ran marathons and played tennis.  He helped organize the infamous Azrou-to-Ifran “Ifran-athon” that amused and perplexed security forces at 2 or 3 of the King’s palaces.

Chris was in constant motion - physically and intellectually.  He was idealistic, interested and interesting.

But of course Chris really didn’t fit anyone’s stereotypes.  He was clean-cut and very preppy - unlike many Volunteers of the day who sported t-shirts, beards and Birkenstocks.  But he was also down-to-earth.  And despite his blond-blond hair or his laid-back, comfortable California air, Chris wasn’t a California surfer boy.  He was a Northern Californian.

Even at the time, Chris was more mature and substantive than many of his fellow Volunteers.  He knew himself well, and showed self-confidence, without the arrogance or self-centeredness of some.  Chris had gracious manners, and at times was almost courtly - But not stuffy or full of himself.  He was intelligent, thoughtful and considerate.

Chris appreciated all kinds of art - and was inquisitive in absorbing Morocco’s culture, whether in its architecture, paintings, carpets or tiles.  He was immensely curious and thoroughly immersed himself in Morocco’s Arabic and Berber and Muslim cultures.  He also acknowledged Morocco’s French influence - Chris definitely appreciated a good bottle of Boulmane or Biére when he was outside his conservative community of Ouaouizerth.

As in so many aspect of his life, Chris’s tastes in music were sophisticated.  And wide-ranging.  As a sax player, he appreciated Getz, Coltrane and Konitz, as well as whatever was current in American rock, or local Arabic pop.  He appreciated the sonorous sounds of the indigenous Berber music he heard in Ouaouizerth.  Jajouka “trance” music was fashionable at the time, and was the latest influence on the Rolling Stones.  But Chris wasn’t entranced by it, and thought it a bit of a Euro-fad.

Chris was witty, irreverent and lyrical.  He had an affection (a weird affectation?) for conjuring up “alternative” [or at least slightly clever] lyrics to musical standards.  Even though there were some 280 PCVs in Morocco at the time, Chris was apparently the only one who knew all the words to “The Vatican Rag,” and wasn’t too shy to ham it up over a few beers, or to suggest that PC/Morocco really should produce the entire campy off-off-Broadway musical, “Nunsense.”

No, Chris Stevens was no stereotype - he was as individual and unique as they come. All in an open, gregarious, engaging, and even goofy way.

Please indulge me a minute more as I look back these 30 years and recall a young man who showed the world even then that he was a Rock and a Star.  It’s appropriate that his first taste of North Africa was in Azrou - the town’s name means “Rock” in the local Berber dialect.  And Chris showed himself to be a rock for others:  stable, reliable, and self-aware, without being self-centered.  He always seemed to have time and consideration for others, whether they were fellow Volunteers, residents of Ouaouizerth, or even strangers.

Chris was also a Star.  Not as a “look-at-me” celebrity Volunteer, but rather as a fixture who could shine brightly on everything and everyone who came into his orbit.  He brought out the good in others.  He obviously didn’t suddenly develop that personality and charm in Morocco; he must have been on that path during his years at Berkeley and in high school.

From my vantage, Chris was an ideal Volunteer - he worked hard and was a good teacher; his principal, counterparts, and PC staff respected him, as did his fellow PCVs.  He loved his village, he drank life in, and made himself part of Morocco.  He excelled.

When he died, we pulled up the “Description of Service” document that I wrote for him in July 1985.  This rather dry document tells us that Chris completed over 200 hours of Arabic during PST; that he attained an FSI score of 3+ in spoken Arabic; that he was one of 40 faculty members at Lycée Sidi Mohamed in Ouaouizerth; that he taught English to hundreds of 10th, 11th and 12th grade students from 1983-1985; etc., etc.  But it says little about the man he was, and was becoming.  By design (and by regulation) the DOS statement excludes the judgments that differentiate outstanding Peace Corps Volunteers from those who merely complete their service.  It’s just a factual narration. - But every Peace Corps CD knows which Volunteers are exceptional.  So it’s not hard to remember Chris.

Chris could be as frustrated as any Volunteer, yet he handled it maturely, stoically  ̶  and also with good humor.  He understood the benefits of being challenged, and was self-reliant enough to deal with daily obstacles.  He said he was happy to be assigned to a Berber village in the Middle Atlas region - even though we had trained him in the Darija dialect of Arabic - and not in any of Morocco’s Berber languages.  Chris was OK accepting his luck/fate [Qisma or Kismet] and he made the most of the lemons he found in his basket.  He was gregarious, yet he ended up in a relatively isolated mountain community.

His nearest Peace Corps neighbor was Amie Bishop - true Kismet!  These two Volunteers practically became soul-mates - and they both spent considerable efforts trying to convince others that they really weren’t a couple!

Chris brought Spanish, and a smattering of Italian, and some school-level French with him, but no matter:  he cheerily compensated for (i.e., he faked) whatever he didn’t have.  He claimed he would learn Maltese if he went there on his way home.  J  I didn’t doubt that he could.

Chris Stevens was creative and determined.  He got it done - whatever “it” was.  He made others look good; he shared credit and he accepted responsibility.  He wasn’t afraid to make mistakes, or to apologize and ask for forgiveness when he did.  He smiled - a lot.

He could and did laugh at himself.  He was serious - but didn’t take himself too seriously.  Chris lived in the present, but was usually also looking far ahead - not in an overly ambitious way, although he was ambitious.  But rather because he saw endless possibilities and was trying to figure out his future.  These are not the traits one normally sees in 23-year olds!  We all knew that Chris was destined for success, and quite possibly greatness.

As a PCV, Chris was intellectual and had an abiding appreciation of history.  And of tradition — And of meaning.  When he went to Tangier with other Volunteers, it wasn’t just to exhale after coming out of the mountains of Ouaouizerth.

Nor was it to inhale aboard the Marrakesh Express with other Volunteers who were practically pilgrims, pursuing the aura of Tangier expats and Beat Generation writers and poets like Bowles and Burroughs.

No, Chris went to Tangier to help organize the then-163-year old American Legation Library - the most comprehensive collection of books, monographs, maps, photographs, and articles on Morocco and North Africa in the world.  Quite a Secondary Project.  As I said, he had a great sense of history.  Including his own  ̶  he often seemed to have a journal with him, recording his own narratives.  Like many PCVs, he was searching, and finding, and testing himself.

Chris was professional and responsible - not only for himself but for others.  In 1984 we held Morocco’s first All-Volunteer Conference.  It was a great success, and a chaotic and emotional time as well.

For example …. Late one afternoon, one Volunteer had succumbed to the stresses of his service, and the emotions of the event.  He self-medicated his frustrations with as much beer and bourbon as he could find.  That effort eventually found him standing in the back of the room, loudly heckling me and others involved in the training.  As the Volunteer teetered back and forth, Chris went over and put a friendly arm around the young man and helped him out.

In doing so, Chris not only showed the Volunteer back to his hotel room, but he also showed compassion for another, as well as professional consideration for the other PCVs in the training.  Later, Chris prevented the same Volunteer from attempting an ill-advised midnight swim, and instead delivered him to my care.  J   A bit later, Chris urged the imprudent Volunteer to publicly apologize to the entire PC/Morocco community for his interruptions and entertainments.

As Chris contemplated the end of his own PC service, he occasionally talked with me about his future.  He really wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer - a Diplomat.  [It was Peace Corps's gain that Chris didn't pass the Foreign Service exam the first time he took it.  Whatever were they thinking??]

But he also felt the pull of law school.  He wanted to be an Attorney.  His love of family, the idea of a career in law, and his desire for a professional life in international relations, were all tugging at him.  He missed his siblings; and he wanted to find the best possible future.

I had pursued both law and foreign affairs with some success, and Chris was eager to see how he might do the same.  He obviously had the intelligence, drive and experience to get into almost any law school in the country.  I pushed him to my alma mater, Georgetown, with its joint degrees in Law and Foreign Service.  But Chris knew that he had to return to California.  He’d already decided that Hastings was the best law school in California  ̶  as well as its oldest.  And it was unique as an independent law school.  Perfect for Chris Stevens! Chris did appreciate tradition and history.

I was more than happy to write letters of recommendation for him.  Although I couldn’t include judgmental adjectives in the Peace Corps DOS Statement, I so wasn’t constrained in writing recommendations.  I described Chris in terms such as: outstanding; exceptional; unlimited potential; a leader among his peers; well-regarded by colleagues, students and superiors; dedicated and determined; a respected member of his community; analytical; an intelligent risk-taker; personable and outgoing; resourceful and resilient.

Over the years, I followed Chris’s legal and diplomatic careers at a distance.  I saw that he found success in both law and diplomacy.  And that he was a star among the State Department’s experts in the Arab world.  His early love affair with North Africa and the Mideast had continued.

Chris was committed to making a difference in the world and always seemed to find a way to do so.  His YouTube introduction to the Libyan people last year was masterful.  It says so much about Chris Stevens in 1985, and in 2012.  How many other Ambassadors would even think of doing something so imaginative?

Peace Corps lost an extraordinary RPCV when Chris died.  America lost a committed public servant, and an exceptional Ambassador.

We can all learn good lessons from a life so well lived.

David Burgess  has been Chief of Operations of the Peace Corps Europe, Mediterranean and Asia (EMA) Region since August 2006, and was Acting Director of the Region from January 2009 to July 2010.  He has also served as Acting Country Director of five Posts in the EMA Region.  David previously served with the Peace Corps in the 1980s, as Country Director in Morocco and Niger, and Acting Country Director for six Africa Region Posts.  He also worked in Peace Corps headquarters as the agency’s Director of Planning and Policy Analysis, and served as a deputy to the Associate Director of Management.

Before returning to Peace Corps in 2006, David was an International Democracy and Development Consultant, and director or Chief of Party on several USAID-funded programs in the US and abroad.  He provided strategic advice and problem-solving assistance to clients in the US and overseas in a dozen countries in Eastern Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa.  He was the Director of the US Democracy Fellows Program in the 1990s, and previously served for six years as the State Department’s Director of Human Rights Policy, Programs, Legislation and Public Diplomacy, in the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.  He has worked with a variety of internationally focused organizations including World Learning, the US State Department, the US Institute of Peace, and America’s Development Foundation. He is an Adjunct Professor and Faculty Secretary at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, and previously was on the faculty of Georgetown University and in the Academy of Public Service.  David is a veteran of the US Air Force, where he served in command and staff positions in US and foreign assignments.  David practiced law for some years, and holds J.D., M.S.F.S. and B.S.F.S. degrees from Georgetown University.

David Burgess has been Chief of Operations of the Peace Corps Europe, Mediterranean and Asia (EMA) Region since August 2006, and was Acting Director of the Region from January 2009 to July 2010.  He has also served as Acting Country Director of five Posts in the EMA Region.  David previously served with the Peace Corps in the 1980s, as Country Director in Morocco and Niger, and Acting Country Director for six Africa Region Posts.  He also worked in Peace Corps headquarters as the agency’s Director of Planning and Policy Analysis, and served as a deputy to the Associate Director of Management.

Before returning to Peace Corps in 2006, David was an International Democracy and Development Consultant, and director or Chief of Party on several USAID-funded programs in the US and abroad.  He provided strategic advice and problem-solving assistance to clients in the US and overseas in a dozen countries in Eastern Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa.  He was the Director of the US Democracy Fellows Program in the 1990s, and previously served for six years as the State Department’s Director of Human Rights Policy, Programs, Legislation and Public Diplomacy, in the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.  He has worked with a variety of internationally focused organizations including World Learning, the US State Department, the US Institute of Peace, and America’s Development Foundation. He is an Adjunct Professor and Faculty Secretary at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, and previously was on the faculty of Georgetown University and in the Academy of Public Service.  David is a veteran of the US Air Force, where he served in command and staff positions in US and foreign assignments.  David practiced law for some years, and holds J.D., M.S.F.S. and B.S.F.S. degrees from Georgetown University.

CD Morocco David Burgess

CD Morocco David Burgess