Memorial Service for Richard C. Holbrooke
Secretary of State
Well, I am last because my office is on the 7th floor which is as close to heaven as you can get, so I end the program by being and bringing you with me to be as close to Richard as we can be.
I’m very, very moved by the outpouring of love and admiration and respect that has been sent to me on behalf of our country from so many places across the world. And in this audience this afternoon are so many who have worked with Richard in the past and were working with him today. If we had time, each and every one of you would have you own stories.
I want to start with Richard on an airplane. Those of us who flew with Richard never forgot the experience. Imagine being confined in a small space – (laughter) – for many hours with Richard determined to make his point and convince you to agree with it. (Laughter.) It was a combination of a big personality and a small space that led everyone who traveled with him to be able to say at the end of our flight, “I, too, now have a story about Richard Holbrooke.”
Richard would begin by assessing every seat to find the one he deemed most comfortable – (laughter) – and then he would use every one of his diplomatic skills to persuade the person who had the seat to give it up to him. (Laughter.) He would roam the cabin, insert himself into conversations, tell stories, and provoke arguments. Sometimes those arguments snowballed; on one flight years ago, when Richard was a younger diplomat, he and a staffer from the White House ended up in a mutual headlock over who got to see transcripts of a conversation with Deng Xiaoping. That presaged the kind of headlock experiences Richard would have with White Houses through the years, and so even more people had their story.
But what was most memorable is that on many flights, he would disappear into the restroom and then emerge having changed out of his sober business suit into what he called his sleeping suit. It was bright yellow. (Laughter.) He would brief the press in it. And the rest of us would shrug and say, “That’s Richard being Richard.” There simply was no one like him anywhere else in the world.
For 20 years, I had a front row seat to Richard being Richard. He was my trusted colleague. Occasionally, he was my biggest headache. Often, he was an inspiration, and always, he was my friend.
And Richard was a genius at friendship. As Bill has said, we were so delighted to attend annual holiday parties that Richard and Kati would throw. And apparently, one year, some months before, I had said something complimentary about the work done by the Salvation Army. It was a completely off-hand comment; anyone else would have forgotten it. Not Richard. So in the middle of dinner, he gave a signal, the doors swung open, and in marched the Salvation Army Band – (laughter) – trumpets blaring, carols being sung, and Richard beaming from ear to ear. Once again, Richard being Richard.
Richard was brilliant. Blunt. And he did fight until the final bell for what he believed in. Now, Richard, upon hearing Winston Churchill’s famous motto: “Never, never, never, never give up,” said that Churchill was half-hearted. (Laughter.)
There are many of us in this audience who’ve had the experience of Richard calling 10 times a day if he had to say something urgent, and of course, he believed everything he had to say was urgent. And if he couldn’t reach you, he would call your staff. He’d wait outside your office. He’d walk into meetings to which he was not invited, act like he was meant to be there, and just start talking. (Laughter.)
I personally received the Richard Holbrooke treatment many times. He would give me homework. He would declare that I had to take one more meeting, make one more stop. There was no escaping him. He would follow me onto a stage as I was about to give a speech, or into my hotel room, or, on at least one occasion, into a ladies’ room – (laughter) – in Pakistan. (Laughter.) (Applause.)
When he had an idea, he would pitch it to me. If I said no – “Richard, no.” – he would wait a few days, and then he would try again. Finally I would say, “Richard, I’ve said no. Why do you keep asking me?” And he would look at me so innocently and he would reply, “I just assumed at some point you would recognize that you were wrong and I was right.” (Laughter.) And you know, sometimes that did happen.
Richard and I were a team, starting in Bosnia when I was First Lady, through his years at the UN, his work on AIDS and global health, and our work together on Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was not always being easy on Richard’s team. We went through a lot of tough times in those years, but we went through them together. He stood by me through my battles, and I stood by him through his.
So I feel his absence keenly, and I know so many people here do as well. This is a loss personally and it is a loss for our country. We face huge tasks ahead of us, and it would be better if Richard were here, driving us all crazy about what we needed to be doing.
He had, as we’ve heard from others, secured his place in history. I am confident that the work he had done and was doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan will also stand the test of time. And I greatly appreciate President Zardari coming all the way to be with us today. (Applause.) He was, as Mike Mullen said, passionate about restoring the balance between our military and civilian operations; he was determined to bring that balance back through sheer force of will if necessary.
Shortly after Richard was named to be the Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, I decided that I needed to bring Richard and General Petraeus together, so I invited them both over to our home here in Washington. And I set up two chairs with a third, and I just watched them interact. Those are two men with a lot of energy. I was exhausted by the time they had finished going through everything that they were thinking and what needed to be done in the years ahead. And as they were leaving, they both said, “Let’s do this again tomorrow night.” (Laughter.)
But Richard got results. The High Peace Council that he helped launch in Afghanistan is working and just sent a delegation to Pakistan. His work on water, energy, agriculture, and trade is paying off in significant improvements to people’s lives. He had a vision where we needed to be going, and despite all the challenges, which he knew very well, he remained optimistic and positive about what we could do together.
Richard did this work with the help of a phenomenal team that he assembled with great gusto and pride over the past two years. They represent some of the best minds and biggest talents from inside and outside government. And many of them are here today, so let me say to Richard’s team: You meant the world to Richard. And all of us at the State Department are proud of your work.
He also created an international contact group with now more than 40 countries represented and increasing numbers of Muslim majority countries as part of that international contact group. I met with some of them who traveled so far to come here for this celebration of Richard’s life. And you, too, meant a great deal to Richard because he saw that we must have a political solution and that we must work to build regional and international support.
Many of Richard’s staffers are young. But then, he was young when he started, and he wanted to give young people a chance to learn and serve and work on behalf of the country that he felt such a commitment to.
There are few people in any time, but certainly in our time, who can say, I stopped a war. I made peace. I saved lives. I helped countries heal. Richard Holbrooke did these things. He believed that great men and women could change history. And he did. He wanted to be a great man so he could change history. He was, and he did.
His time with us ended far too soon. And yet he lived enough for 10 lives. So while we mourn, we have reason for joy – joy for the life that Richard lived, joy that we were able to be part of it – that we went along for the ride.
And his partners in that endeavor were his family: his sons David and Anthony and their families, Lizzie and Chris, his grandchildren, and most of all Kati, a friend to us all and someone who understood and loved Richard so well. The family they built together cast light on so many people.
There is a book of early Jewish wisdom, the Book of Ben Sira, which includes this passage: “With three things I am delighted, for they are pleasing to the Lord and to men: harmony among brethren, friendship among neighbors, and the mutual love of husband and wife.” With his life and legacy, Richard Holbrooke was three for three. God bless you, my friend. (Applause.)