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Jun 24 2011

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A Senseless Tragedy in Baghdad

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At its core, life is precious and humbling.

With the certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow, we go about our lives weaving a fabric of routine and expectation that provides a blanket of  assurance, linking one day to the next.

And then tragedy strikes, compounded by a wanton anguish rooted in its sheer randomness, that reminds us all how fragile and fleeting life truly is.

That truth came home yesterday in Baghdad.

Operating with little fanfare or attention, US government agencies have continued to work with Iraqi authorities on programs to improve social and economic development in the country. One of those programs, administered by USAID in Iraq, is an education project to introduce a new business curriculum at  Mustansiriyah University, in eastern Baghdad.

Yesterday, as US contractors for the project were apparently leaving the University, their vehicle was the target of roadside bomb.

The blast took the life of one American, Dr. Stephen Everhart.

A more senseless or unlikely ending is hard to imagine.

I first met Steve when we both served at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). At first, I wasn’t sure about him.  As an accomplished PhD economist, I had imagined he’d be a dry and haughty persona.

 But it did not take long to realize that Steve was anything but a stereotype.

Capable and professional, Steve brought a leveling humanism to his work. 

This was never more apparent than in Steve’s economic risk presentations, conducted at senior-level project review committees.  With a trademark verbal flair, Steve transformed dry statistics into a narrative mosaic of themes and hues that seldom failed to make an impression. These assessments were an outsized projection of his personality.

A genial man, Steve was possessed of a finely-honed sense of humor and a seemingly endless supply of hilarious life stories that never failed to lighten the mood or beget serial laughter. Confident and accomplished, he could be self-deprecating about his profession, while pursuing excellence within it.

But a sense of humor did not reflect a lack of seriousness. Steve was a consummate team player and could always be counted on in matters that were routine or consequential. Indeed, Steve’s personal wit and approachability complemented his professional dedication. 

In a world filled with cynicism and selfishness, it seems cliched to say that Steve cared. 

But he did.

His work at the World Bank and OPIC were symbols of Steve’s commitment to make a difference in the lives of others. Curious by nature, Steve had an abiding interest in ideas and a passion for public policy- from the rough and tumble of the politics of the day, to the vagaries of actual development assistance in emerging economies. 

That principled commitment became a life choice when Steve moved his family to Egypt to accept a position as Associate Dean of the Business School at the American University in Cairo; making a difference in the lives of students in an developing economy.

Through our service together, I remember a kind of entrenched optimism that buffered Steve in matters large and small. I marveled at his ability to find the upside in a situation, even if it occasionally found voice in grim or ironic humor.

Evacuated to Lebanon after the protests in Cairo turned violent this past winter, Steve focused not on the potential danger or disruption to his family, but on his curiosity and high regard for new haunts in Beirut.

That optimism was present in Steve’s Facebook posts over the last few days.

He seemed to revel in the adventure of visiting the sights in Baghdad, and sharing his first-hand accounts.  He expressed excitement at the opportunity to help the Iraqis in the education program.

 So much promise. So much potential.  Cut short without purpose.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Steve’s vehicle was attacked outside the gates of the University, which is located near Sadr City, a Shiite slum that is home to anti-American militias. 

It is likely that somewhere, there are Iraqis who are cheering the act of barbarism committed yesterday.

But this is little more than a sad and twisted expression of blind, wanton hate that serves no interest or party at the end of the day.

Terrorists claimed a man of heart and principle; a man who came of his own volition to use his gifts and experience in the service of others.

For Iraqis.

There can be no redemption for an evil that so willfully extinguishes a candle of selfless generosity.

Steve’s senseless death is a devastating and irreplaceable loss for his family and friends.

In a larger sense it is also a loss to the ranks of Americans whose commitment and compassion have defined our face to the world time and again, against significant challenges and formidable odds.

In his lifetime of pursuits and in his untimely end, Steve Everhart has emerged as an example for all of us, and a symbol of our better angels.

May God bless you, Steve.

May the warmth and light of your memory console your wife and children, your family, and your many friends who remember you today.

We will miss you.

And we will not forget.

6 comments

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  1. Nevine

    May his Soul Rest in Peace, he was so helpfull and professional, May he pray for this World to be better with no terrorism or hatred. He lived as an Angel.

  2. Nadia Rashad

    Dr.Stephen Everhart? Dr. Malcom Kerr? Were snached in the prime their lives. Why? For their courage. They were not military people on duty but educators and givers hoping to help make the workd a better place.
    I know many who do not even venture outside thier compounds out of fear for thier lives. It is the US polocy. The first to evacuate in the face of trouble. It is a State Departement order.
    I have travelled all over the world and in recent years US citizens outside the US of A are in fear for thier lives!!! Has anyone asked why????
    YOU BARGE IN WHERE ANGLES FEAR TO TREAD….
    The consequence are bad and the outcome is detrimental.
    I knew Dr. Kerr and his family and also Dr. Stephen’s family. Wonderful people,
    My time heal thier broken hearts. I know there were an inspiration to sooo many people.

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