Two days ago the world, and his family and friends, said goodbye to a great man.
He was a Canadian whose contributions to the world improve your quality of life, no matter where you live, although you likely have never heard his name.
Ambassador J. Alan Beesley, O.C., Q.C. (Aug 17, 1927 - Jan 22, 2009) was laid to rest on Saturday, Jan 31, 2009.
In 1945 at UBC, the University of British Columbia, Alan founded the Jokers Club. It quickly became the largest club on campus. The club for "nitwits, screwballs, and zanies... ...we are lunatics at large" he told the campus newspaper in an interview.
This was a man who could and did have fun. He also made a serious difference to the world, which is why I want to remember him today.
Alan's son, another Alan, wrote that:
"Alan was a man that remembered where he came from. He believed in the rule of law and the ability in each of us to make the world a better place. He will be greatly missed by all whose lives he touched."
Everything else is just details, but the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) always thought something could be found in the details, quoting Gustave Flaubert.
In the details, here, we find Alan's contributions to Canada and the world.
Alan was a diplomat and a public servant in the truest sense of those words.
His diplomatic posts included:
Ambassador to Austria, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (1973-1976);
High Commissioner to Australia (1977-1980);
Canada's first Ambassador for Disarmament (1980-1982);
Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (1983-1987);
Member, International Law Commission (1986-1991); and
Ambassador for Marine Conservation and Special Environmental Advisor to Canada's Foreign Minister (1989-1991).
But, Alan's greatest diplomatic role was likely Ambassador to the Law of the Sea Conference, Canadian Head of Delegation, and Chair of the Conference Drafting Committee (1967-1983).
Why does this matter to you?
If you shop at a store, goods come to you more easily and therefore less expensively, because he helped create the legal order on the high seas that we all enjoy, directly or indirectly.
The piracy in Somalia is notable because it is not the way it is supposed to be, nor the way that it has been.
Do you like salmon? Salmon are migratory fish. They don't respect borders and they carry no passports.
Salmon, after extensive hydro-electric damming of salmon-rivers in the USA, are mostly born in Canada. They swim to Alaska to eat for a few years, then come home to breed and die.
Canadian and American salmon fishermen fight over how many salmon need to be preserved, and who gets to catch the salmon that can be harvested--and the Alaskan fisherman have first access at fishing, which gives them a lot of power.
Worse, for the Canadian salmon fishermen, salmon didn't matter to many of the other delegates at the Law of the Sea Conference.
Ambassador Alan hosted a large dinner for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea delegates.
He served salmon.
The next day he discussed the effects that a certain article in the proposed Convention would have on fish that migrated across borders in their life cycle. Fish like salmon.
The relevant article made it into the final text of the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea, unscathed.
Ambassador Beesley oversaw over twenty thousand revisions as Chair of the Conference Drafting Committee for the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea so that the various state actors could and would agree to set up a common legal regime to extend the rule of law to and across the high seas.
Is that it? No.
If you drink water or breathe air it is cleaner because of Alan's efforts to create an awareness of environmental values and issues in international law.
He struggled, successfully, to get environmental protection on the legislative and judicial agenda, nationally and internationally.
From talks with one of his two surviving children, and the obituary in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper which his son wrote, I know that Alan was involved in many of the modern world's major bilateral and multilateral negotiations including:
Outer Space; the Law of the Atmosphere; Aerial Hijacking; International Trade; the International Atomic Energy Agency Peaceful Nuclear Regime; Environmental Law; Human Rights Law; the Law of the Arctic; Humanitarian Law and the Laws of War; Climate Change; Aboriginal Law; Refugee Law; and International Crimes.
His loss diminishes the world, but his life made the world a bigger, brighter, more legally accountable, and environmentally aware place.
His additions compensate the world for his passing, but not his family for their loss.
He gave your life greater quality, even if you never knew him or of him. He was a silent giant who made a magnificent difference.
He will be missed.
My town is the world; today I am the bell crier. Ambassador J. Alan Beesley, O.C., Q.C., you are missed. Rest in Peace.