Friends recall adventure-filled life of foreign service officer

April 27, 2013

Friends and former classmates gathered at Johns Hopkins University on Saturday to remember Anne Smedinghoff, a foreign service officer killed in a bomb strike in Afghanistan earlier this month, sharing stories of a too-short life marked by adventure.

As photographs of Smedinghoff in front of monuments and ruins around the world flashed on projector screens, friends recalled her various escapades, including a coast-to-coast cycling trip when she ate a live bug as part of a scavenger hunt.

Smedinghoff, who grew up in River Forest, Ill., outside Chicago, graduated from Hopkins with a degree in international studies. A scholarship fund has been established at the university in her name. At the time of her death, the 25-year-old was on her second foreign posting. She had been in Afghanistan since July.

She was killed April 6, along with three American soldiers and a civilian employee of the Defense Department, when their convoy was struck by a car bomb. The group was delivering textbooks to a school; friends have started a drive to gather books for Baltimore public school children in her memory.

It was shortly after her 2009 graduation that Smedinghoff and a group of students embarked on the cross-country cycle trek, known as the Hopkins 4K.


Anne Smedinghoff was killed while delivering textbooks in southern Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Tom Smedinghoff/AP)

Along the way, Smedinghoff maintained a lively Twitter account, excerpts of which were shared at the memorial service. She shared insights about the two seasons of Illinois — road construction and winter — and the correlation between location and baked bean quality: They get better as you head west.

Smedinghoff, who had also worked as a diplomat in Venezuela, had gone sky diving in Arizona and had been caught in a Jordanian sandstorm on another biking adventure, expressed one regret, her college roommate Elisabeth Meinert said: not becoming an astronaut.

But the two young women made up for it one time in Washington by sneaking brownies into the National Air and Space Museum, Meinert said.

Despite her taste for adventure, one friend described Smedinghoff as an introvert, and others recalled her kindness and consideration for others.

“She was always able to pull the best out of everyone,” said Paige Cantlin.

Pamela Lachman, another college friend, described how she and Smedinghoff worked together to organize a foreign-affairs symposium at Hopkins. The pair wanted to host Paul Rusesabagina, whose story was dramatized in the film Hotel Rwanda, but Lachman initially balked at his fee.

Smedinghoff reminded Lachman of the hundreds of lives he had saved during the genocide. “Who cares what his honorarium is?” Meinert recalled her saying.

After Smedinghoff’s death, Lachman said she met the foreign service officer who was being sent to Afghanistan to carry on her duties. The new officer was nervous, so Lachman said she shared stories of Smedinghoff’s work and how much she had enjoyed herself.

“If you have one-tenth of that, you’re going to have a great time,” Lachman said.

The service was interspersed with some of Smedinghoff’s favorite poems as well as others composed for the occasion. One was constructed from fragments of friends’ grief-stricken posts on Facebook.

“I intend to deliver you at any moment / always smiling greater than the world,” it read in part.

The memorial finished with a reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Success.”

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. / This is to have succeeded,” they said as one.

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