Family, friends, dignitaries pay tribute to Ambassador Stevens
By Scott Johnson
SAN FRANCISCO — Several hundred mourners from around the world, including a former secretary of state, a former bishop of California and the Libyan ambassador to the United States, gathered in the elegant rotunda of San Francisco City Hall Tuesday to honor the life and work of former U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens.
The memorial, called “A Celebration of Life,” included remembrances and appreciations by more than a dozen family members, former colleagues and government dignitaries, a video montage narrated by Stevens himself, as well as songs by the University of California Men’s Glee Club Alumni.
“He’s always been with me, he was my most important mentor,” said a younger sister, Anne Stevens Sullivan. “The world needs a lot more big
brothers like Chris Stevens.”
“Christopher Stevens stood out as extraordinary in an already extraordinary group of people,” said former Secretary of State George P. Shultz. “Democracy is not a spectator sport, and Christopher Stevens was a full participant in his beloved democracy.”
Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan port city of Benghazi in the evening hours of Sept. 11, the 11-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Stevens and his staff had gone to the consulate to launch a Cultural Exchange Center when militants attacked the offices with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. He was the first American ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979, when Ambassador Adolph Dubs was kidnapped by Islamic radicals in Kabul, Afghanistan, and later died during a firefight.
The memorial began with a U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard “posting colors” ceremony and a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The Rev. William Swing said Stevens had perished in the “crucible flame of theocracy and democracy” that had swept across so much of the Middle East in the form of the Arab Spring that started in 2011. San
Francisco Mayor Ed Lee spoke about how Stevens embodied an international spirit of peace and inclusion.
Anne Stevens Sullivan spoke about “how clever, how witty he was, how he made us smile.” She said her older brother was “mischievous” and told how he once set her bassinet on fire, led her off a hiking trail, and nicknamed her “chubs.” “So why do I miss him so much?” she asked, to gentle laughter.
A Bay Area native, Stevens was born to Mary and Jan Stevens in Grass Valley in 1960. He later moved to Piedmont, where he graduated from high school. Stevens showed an interest in the wider world from an early age, starting in high school when he traveled to Spain as part of an American Field Service exchange program. He went on to study languages and classics at UC Berkeley, graduating with a degree in history in 1982. He spent two years in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer. Stevens then attended law school at UC Hastings and
worked as an attorney for two years.
But his appetite for foreign lands and different cultures had been whetted, and in 1992 Stevens joined the U.S. Foreign Service. His fluency in Arabic and French made him ideally suited for a career in North Africa and the Middle East, and over the next 20 years Stevens rose quickly through the ranks of the diplomatic corps.
A succession of increasingly important jobs took him to Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem and, twice, to Tripoli. With the tumult of the Arab Spring, Stevens was tapped early on to become a liaison to the many fractious rebel groups vying for power in Libya for the duration of the revolution. With the death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the eventual toppling of his regime, Stevens was named ambassador to Libya.
Among his many accomplishments, Stevens will no doubt be remembered for his heroic efforts during the nine long and bloody months of Libya’s revolution, a period when he was often the lone American representative on the ground.
By all accounts Stevens was passionate about the Middle East and Libya in particular. Virtually all the speakers said Stevens was always enthusiastic about his work overseas.
His friend Steven MacDonald said Chris embodied a “people-first diplomacy” that made the world a better place.
“There is no limit to what he did for Libyan people. He built the bridge between Libya and the United States, a strong bridge built of love,” said Ali Suleiman Aujali, Libya’s ambassador to the United States. “We lost a friend, a supporter and we lost a hero, and he’s part of the Libyan history, the Libyan revolution. We’ll never forget his name. I am sorry because you sent us one of your best diplomats but we were not able to protect him.”
Anne Stevens Sullivan said her brother had an insatiable curiosity, always talking to strangers and joking with vendors, and that he devoted as much time as possible to his family. He inspired his younger sister Hilary Stevens Koziol to join the Peace Corps.
Tom Stevens said his older brother was humble to a fault. “He had so many professional achievements that he never talked about, and you have to ask yourself what would the world be like if more people had the qualities he did — humble, calm, steady, relentlessly positive?”
“The world never saw a kinder, more resolute soul than Chris,” MacDonald said. “We feel so sad for the loss of Chris, but so lucky to have known him.”