Page 3 of 5   <       >

Richard Holbrooke dies: Veteran U.S. diplomat brokered Dayton peace accords

Video
Leaders and officials around the world have hailed late U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke as "best and brightest."

President George H.W. Bush once described Mr. Holbrooke to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen as "the most persistent advocate I've ever run into."

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger once said, "If Richard calls you and asks you for something, just say yes. If you say no, you'll eventually get to yes, but the journey will be very painful."

'Holbrooke stories'

Mr. Holbrooke was virtually a literary creation - the sort of man who seemed to read everything, know everybody and do everything. He counted legions of people as "close friends," and all of them had "Holbrooke stories" about his excesses, his vanities, his jealousies and his enormous capacity to keep their friendship and his own sense of humor.

The hulking, broad-shouldered Mr. Holbrooke knew presidents and prime ministers, journalists and policy wonks - and he wanted to make sure everyone he knew knew one another.

At cocktail receptions and dinner parties, he frequently dragged people across the room for an introduction to someone they just "had to know." The introductions always came with extensive praise of one friend being introduced to another.

While beleaguered members of Mr. Holbrooke's traveling party sought sleep on transcontinental flights, he usually would stay up late reading.

On one trip to Pakistan, he padded to the forward of the cabin in his stocking feet to point out to a reporter a passage in Margaret Bourke-White's memoirs of the time of India-Pakistan partition and independence.

Bourke-White quoted Pakistani leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah telling her that Pakistan would have no problems with the Americans, because "they will always need us more than we need them."

Mr. Holbrooke laughed, saying, "Nothing ever changes."

On the ground, Mr. Holbrooke was indefatigable. There was always one more conversation to be had, one more phone call to make. During a 2009 visit to a refugee camp in Pakistan, he spent hour after hour trudging through the dirt, walking into stifling tents, sticking out his hand and introducing himself to seemingly terrified families. He quickly put them at ease, inviting himself to sit down cross-legged on the dirt floors and asking about their lives.

On the road, whether he had spent the day traipsing around Afghanistan or Pakistan, or in high-level meetings, Mr. Holbrooke often treated his entire staff - and anyone else who was hanging around - to dinner, taking great pleasure in finding just the right hole-in-the-wall spot, or opulent restaurant, to make the night memorable.

Early years

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke was born April 24, 1941, in New York City, where his father was a physician. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Germany and Poland. When he was 16, his father died and he was taken under the wing of the family of a future secretary of state, Dean Rusk, whose son was Holbrooke's friend in Scarsdale, N.Y.


<          3           >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company