Slain Libyan ambassador described as ‘unflappable’ by his brother
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Slain Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens first became interested in international affairs back at Piedmont High School in the East Bay, according to his younger brother Tom.
Stevens, 52, who was killed Tuesday in an assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was selected by the AFS international exchange organization program to go to Spain, where he learned Spanish.
Then, in his junior year at UC Berkeley, where Stevens majored in history and belonged to the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, he journeyed to Perugia and learned Italian.
“By that point, he caught the international bug,” recalled Tom, 46. “He went into the Peace Corps after college. Because he knew some French from college, they sent him to Morocco, and he taught English to Berbers in the Atlas Mountains. It was there that he started learning Arabic.”
After graduating from UC Hastings College of the Law in 1982, Stevens went to work for the law firm Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro in the company’s Washington office, where he specialized in international trade law for two years, said his brother.
“But he wanted to get out and about again – for good,” Tom said. “And he did. He joined the foreign service in 1992.”
Tennis helped Stevens make many diplomatic friendships, his younger brother said, but that wasn’t the only thing he had going for him.
He was naturally diplomatic “long before he was a diplomat. ... He was interested in other people. He didn’t talk about himself, aggrandize himself.... He wasn’t the kind to stay in his office, shuffle papers and do reports. He got out into the communities, talked to people.”
Tom Stevens said his brother was “an unflappable person.” Despite his years in the volatile Middle East, no crisis ever made its way into an email or phone call to his family. He never married, although “over the years he had a lot of devoted female companions.”
He recently took what his brother described as “a great trip” to Stuttgart, Germany, for a conference and to visit museums, followed by attendance at a wedding in Sweden and a sojourn in Vienna.
“He got back to Libya not too long ago,” Tom Stevens said. “He wrote this email home, saying he had a ton of work waiting for him and he’d write a more detailed email later. That email never came.”
The two brothers were “very close,” Tom said. “Not if you measured it by distance. He was always away. He was my big brother. It’s been mostly just a whirlwind. The news started coming in in the wee hours of the morning. Then we couldn’t sleep at all.
“It hasn’t fully sunk in. It won’t for some time. It comes in waves.”
--Maria L. LaGanga
Photo: Then-U.S. envoy J. Christopher Stevens speaks to reporters at the Tibesty Hotel in Benghazi, Libya, in 2011. Credit: Ben Curtis / Associated Press