When the Arab Spring revolts spread to Libya, Mr. Stevens became the Obama administration’s envoy to the opposition there, meeting with representatives overseas and eventually setting up the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. He returned to what he proudly called a “democratic Libya” as ambassador this spring.
A former State Department colleague, Wayne White, said Mr. Stevens used his disarming charm to persuade others. He recalled that Mr. Stevens would arrive in his office with a “big smile” and then give him some work.
The work might not have always been welcome, “but it was better if it came from Chris. He was just such a genuinely intelligent, high-minded guy,” White said.
As a diplomat, Mr. Stevens had a direct style that is unusual among his peers. Preparing then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a meeting with Gaddafi in 2008, he alluded to Gaddafi’s crush on Rice.
“A self-styled intellectual and philosopher, he has been eagerly anticipating for several years the opportunity to share with you his views on global affairs,” Mr. Stevens wrote in a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks.
Rice later recalled Gaddafi’s interest in her as “creepy.”
‘He wasn’t afraid’
Mr. Stevens, who grew up near Oakland, Calif., went to the University of California at Berkeley. He never married and had no children. His brother Tom Stevens, an assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco, said the family had worried at times about Mr. Stevens’s safety.
“He was good-natured about it. He wasn’t afraid in places other people might think were scary,” Tom Stevens said.
Speaking with a Washington Post reporter in June, Mr. Stevens acknowledged a rise in violence in Libya, especially among small Islamist groups.
“It’s a function of there being a lot of freedom and desire to express views and agendas,” he said. “When people cross the line, it’s also a function of a lack of a strong state and police to enforce the law.”
Austin Tichenor, a high school classmate who became a college roommate and lifelong friend, said Mr. Stevens was passionate about a career that was worlds away from his own.
“He understood so much about the Middle East,” said Tichenor, an actor and writer. “The only small solace is that he died the same way he lived,” in the thick of things.
Mr. Stevens had worked as an international trade lawyer and a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco before joining the State Department.
Arash Babaoff, a friend of Mr. Stevens’s since the 1990s, described him as an intensely committed diplomat.
“It was his life,” Babaoff said. “He was just someone who really had his heart in this, and he really felt like he was making relationships and headway.”
Babaoff called the killing “a blow to idealism.”
Tara Bahrampour and Julie Tate contributed to this report.