The Cable

Outpouring of love, respect, and humor at memorial for Holbrooke

Leaders from Washington and around the world joined colleagues and family of the late Richard Holbrooke at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Friday afternoon to honor their lost friend, share remembrances, and call for a continuation of his lifelong dedication to public service. The crowd at the packed Opera House turned into what one ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Leaders from Washington and around the world joined colleagues and family of the late Richard Holbrooke at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Friday afternoon to honor their lost friend, share remembrances, and call for a continuation of his lifelong dedication to public service.

The crowd at the packed Opera House turned into what one State Department veteran called "a who’s who of the diplomatic corps." Three heads of state, over a dozen foreign ministers, and hundreds more familiar faces from around the foreign policy community were in attendance at the event.

The speakers included Holbrooke’s wife Kati Marton, his sons Anthony and David Holbrooke, his stepdaughter Elizabeth Jennings, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Bill Clinton, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, NSC senior director Samantha Power, Strobe Talbott, James Johnson, Leslie Gelb, and Amb. Frank Wisner.

Some of the other attendees in the audience included Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, State Department policy planning chief Anne Marie Slaughter, Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, NSC senior director Derek Chollet, NSC senior director Doug Lute, Rep. Jane Harman, Madeleine Albright, Zalmay Khalilzad, Robert Rubin, Abdullah Abdullah, Marcus Brauchli, and many, many others.

The event started with a video montage featuring pictures of Holbrooke with everyone from his wife to President Obama to the Dalai Lama.

Marton gave a touching speech in which she described what it was like to be attached to Holbrooke as he charged around the world, playing the game of high-stakes diplomacy.

"On the way to our wedding, he was on the phone pushing Strobe Talbott to start the bombing [of Serbia]. That was a good indication of what life being married to Richard would be like," said Marton.

"Richard was not looking to this last mission to secure his place in history, he was just going to give this last task everything he had," she said. "From Richard I learned that a life of meaning is more important than a life of ease, and perhaps even a long life."

Obama spoke about his first meeting with Holbrooke just after the presidential election, in his Chicago transition office. Holbrooke had lucrative options in private life, but Obama said it was clear that he was determined to serve again. "He belonged in the arena," Obama said.

Obama appealed to the team Holbrooke assembled at the State Department to remain in public service and announced a new, annual "Richard C. Holbrooke Award" to honor excellence in diplomacy.

A common theme that ran through the speeches was Holbrooke’s legendary aggressive and overwhelming personality.

"Arguing against Hobrooke was like dealing with quicksand. The more your fought, the deeper you would get," said Mullen. He said his first conversation with Holbrooke "made my Senate confirmation hearing seem like an episode of ‘Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader.’"

Several speakers spoke about how Holbrooke’s famous ego and energy helped him in his life’s work.

"I think Dick is in heaven sitting next to God and saying ‘I think I could do a great job negotiating up here if you would just give me some additional powers,’" said Daniel Rubenstein, who gave the introductory speech. "God is probably saying, ‘Yes, Dick, I’ve heard enough, I agree with you, you’ve got whatever you need.’"

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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