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Eulogy at Memorial Service for Victims of Helicopter Crash in Nepal

Randall L. Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of USAID
Washington National Cathedral
Washington, DC
November 30, 2006

Ambassador Tobias speaking to assembled mourners from pulpit at the Washington National CathedralWhen the helicopter in which they were traveling went down in Nepal on September 23, the World Wildlife team and the development personnel who accompanied them were on a mission to preserve the very planet we all share--flying over one of the most majestically beautiful countries in God's creation. Surely, at that moment and in that place, they were in God's hands.

Word of the tragedy reverberated, not only here in Washington and in Nepal, but in the development and environmental communities around the world. Flags were lowered simultaneously in both countries. Nepal had lost a score of good friends, and declared a day of mourning to honor their memory.

The world of development had lost some very dedicated and talented individuals. And the U.S. Government and the World Wildlife Fund had lost too many good colleagues and friends. Today we are humbled by their sacrifice. We honor their memories. And we are grateful for having been touched by their lives.

Of the 24 committed people on board that helicopter, two were officials from the United States Agency For International Development. Margaret Alexander and Dr. Bijnan Acharya were unique individuals. How unique became quickly clear from the many tributes from their colleagues and friends--tributes that poured in from all around the world.

But the flight also included a young man less well known--Matt Preece--a World Wildlife Fund Program Officer recently accepted to begin a career at USAID. Like all of you, I am equally saddened, by the loss of such incredible experience, and the loss of young potential.

Mostly, however, I'm saddened by the loss of these extraordinary human beings--these three members of the USAID family and their 21 companions. But I take solace in knowing that all three of these careers--the career just beginning and those that had already contributed so much--were likely influenced not only by the others on that helicopter, but directly or indirectly by many of you here today.

The lives of Margaret, Bijnan, and Matt, like those who perished with them, touched many people--people who will always remember them for their humor and approachability, their eagerness to learn as well as their eagerness to teach, for their openness, their enthusiasm, their love of country. But mostly, I think we will remember these 24 for what surely must have been an infectious enthusiasm that comes from commitment to a cause of such grand and noble importance.

The 24 people on that ill-fated flight represented no less than eight foreign and Nepalese organizations and government agencies--symbolizing the community of humankind, living together on God's creation--this earth. All 24 were celebrating the realization of a dream that would not have come true without the support of a broad array of committed partners--the Governments of Nepal, the United States and Finland, and NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund and those from Nepalese civil society.

That dream was the creation of the indigenously owned and managed Kangchenjunga Conservation Area. Today, it stands as their legacy--a legacy that is about much more than conservation. It is a legacy that is also about helping local communities establish methods of good governance. It is about empowering local communities to manage their own resources sustainably. And it's about working in partnership to create livelihoods that give people hope for their own future.

This partnership is the real dream for which our colleagues gave their lives. And their sacrifice for that cause is the powerful example we are called to follow.

Our prayers and condolences go out for them and their families, as today we dedicate ourselves to continue the inspiring legacy they left behind--the legacy of not only preserving God's earth, but of making better the lives of God's creatures who dwell upon it. May they rest in peace.


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