02.04.08

Ambassador James W. Spain

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I remember being on the Senate floor on September 12th, 2001, the day after the horrendous attack on our great nation. 

It was the only time in my 33 years here that I can remember the public galleries being closed.  Every senator came onto the floor of the Senate to indicate to the world that this symbol of democracy would not close down.  I especially remember that the closed visitors’ galleries contained only two people: Former Ambassador James Spain and my wife, Marcelle.

This memory, and so many more, came back to me in January of this year when Ambassador Spain’s son Stephen informed me that my dear friend Jim had died on January 2nd in Wilmington, North Carolina.

It is hard to think of anyone in public life I have met during my years as a senator who is as memorable as Jim Spain.

He has touched me with his dignity, his sense of humanity, and his honesty as no one else could.  He was the truest of public servants—one who cared for his country and those his position influenced more than he cared for himself.

 

I first met Jim decades ago when he was the Ambassador of Turkey, and I visited him in Ankara.  Even though Turkey was under military rule, he invited people from across the political spectrum to meet with the two of us at his residence.  It was there that I saw the abilities of one of the finest ambassadors to ever represent our great country, as he brought these sometime adversaries together to talk—in what he called his “game room”.

 

Turkey was under a dusk-to-dawn curfew at that time, but I had to leave in the middle of the night to return to the United States.  Jim arranged for a military escort to take me and to open the airport so my military plane could leave.  I still remember “His Excellency” waving good-bye from his front door in his pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers.


We kept in close touch when he returned to Washington, through his ambassadorship in Sri Lanka, and later retirement.  He, Marcelle, and I once sat up half the night, talking, when he was a guest in our house.  After every one of these meetings, I would tell others that I felt as though I had been with a close member of my own family, and my conscience had been touched in a very special and helpful way.

 

I wish every member of the foreign service could read Ambassador Spain’s book, In Those Days.  I was privileged to write, along with John Kenneth Galbraith and Andrew Greeley, a cover blurb for that book, and said:

 

From boyhood glimpses of a strutting Al Capone, to post-war Japan, a stint with the CIA and a fascinating foreign service career—this is a life worth living.  History is shaped by extraordinary people like Ambassador Spain.  His Irish eloquence makes the difficult look easy while his humanity touches your soul.

 

In the end, it was his humanity that touched us all.  It was as though his great intelligence and ability was only the pedestal to allow the humanity to shine through.

 

Tissa Jayatilaka wrote:

 

News reached us over the weekend past that Jim Spain’s time on earth had run out.  Heaven knows this world of ours cannot afford to do without human beings of his caliber and yet there is only so much that an individual can do for humanity before he, too, must unto the dust descend.

 

Ambassador Spain was one of the most decent, gentle, caring and perceptive human beings I have known to-date.

 

He was unfailingly generous and kind to his fellow-companions on this bitter-sweet journey on earth that we travel on for a while.  It was indeed a privilege to have worked with him briefly and shared a long and fruitful friendship with him thereafter.

 

I first came to know him during my days in The Colombo Plan Bureau in the 1980s.  He had arrived in Colombo sometime in 1985 to head the U.S. Mission here.  Until then, Sri Lanka was the only South Asian country he had not lived in before.

 

He was to make up for this in the years ahead, when in 1989, consequent to his retirement from the U.S. foreign service, he made Sri Lanka his home.

 

This decision of Ambassador Spain was all the more remarkable because the last several years of the 80s was a period when most Sri Lankans were seeking to run away from their land of birth.

 

Jim Spain not only stayed behind but also did a great deal discreetly to assist this beleaguered country of ours to save itself from self-destruction.

 

…It was several years later that I came to know that only a couple of years prior to his coming to Colombo that Ambassador Spain himself had suffered a monumental personal loss.

 

Consequent to a memorable family re-union after some years during Thanksgiving 1983 at a resort in West Virginia, Jim Spain, his wife Edith and daughter Sikandra bade farewell to their sons and brothers Patrick, William and Stephen and began to wend their way through country roads back to Washington.

 

Near Leesburg, Virginia, their light fibre-glass car was hit by a huge old station wage going at 85 miles per hour, driven by a local football player who was not wearing the glasses his license prescribed.  He was not even scratched, but the Spains had to be evacuated to the Washington Hospital Trauma Centre by helicopter.

 

By next morning, Sikandra was dead, Edith was clinging to life in an intensive-care unit and Jim was immobilized with a variety of fractures and bruises.  A few weeks later, Edith died.

 

With the help of his sons and his strong spirituality, Jim Spain bore his irreparable loss with fortitude.

 

Mr. President, I have lost a good friend, and Marcelle and I send our condolences to his sons, Patrick, Stephen, and William; their wives, Barbara, Beth, and Anu; to his grandchildren, Jeanne, James, Aidan, Katherine, and Rachel; and to all within his family. 

 

For my part, I know I have gained more from knowing him than I could ever say. 

 

Mr. President, I ask unanimous president that his bio from Wikipedia be included in the Record.

 

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693

Related Files