Monday, February 2, 2009

Requiescat in Pace, Ambassador J. Alan Beesley

Image of a sunset at Aberdeen harbour, Hong Kong Island.Dear Gentle Reader,

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).

Image of international shipping vessels in the Territorial waters of Hong Kong, just arrived from the High Seas. These ships are shrouded by mist and by distance, but they are visible to the law and those laws regulate their activities and protect us all, from owners to workers and from fishers to fish to consumers of fish.
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.

With condolences,


Raph G. Neckmann said...

What a wonderful and moving tribute to a great man. Thank you, Sepiru Chris.

Barrie said...

Chris, how very good of you to write this tribute. Thank you.

Reb said...

What a fascinating man he must have been. Great tribute to him Chris. Thanks for telling us about him.

Sepiru Chris said...

Raph, Barrie, and Reb,

You are welcome. And thank you for your words.

Lyzzydee said...

Great Tribute to a great man

Clare2e said...

That is really interesting. I confess to being lured just by the romance of the phrase Law of the Sea, but Beesley seems like a trenchant and dedicated public servant. We always need examples like his.

Sepiru Chris said...


Trenchant is a great and apt descriptor, especially for his intellect.

Wry would also fit his personality, as related to me by everyone.

I know his son very well, he was best man at one of my weddings, but not the father, to my regret.

He deeply valued humour as a means of communication. Not just to get a message across, but as a means to break tension so that a message could be heard and could be communicated upon and could become considered.

Alan (Jr.) laughs at his own jokes. He insists, even in the obituary, that this is an inherited trait, and everyone comments on Ambassador Beesley's sense of humour.

By the end of the Law of the Seas Conference, and I do not know the mechanism by which this was determined, he and another man were apparently considered the two most influential men over the duration of the conference.

To understand the importance of this, in terms of legislating new international law, this was the Convention of the last century.

It could end up as influential of Hugo Grotius' (1583-1645) tome on the De jure belli ac pacis (On the Law of War and Peace) which set the concept of international law in motion.

Thanks for commenting.


Travis Erwin said...

A fine tribute to what sounds like a very dedicated man.

bindu said...

If even a short summary of his accomplishments is this long, his life must have been so interesting and filled with purpose. Sorry to hear about his loss.

Sepiru Chris said...


Thank you very much.


I cut out the section on his awards because it would have increased the post length by 50%...


Reader Wil said...

He must have been a very important man in this world of ours. Thanks for drawing our attention to him.
Thanks for visiting my world too. I learnt something new from you, for I had never heard about Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. I looked his name up in Google and read that he lived and died in England during the last part of his life. His paintings are interesting and in a way beautiful but from a period I don't care much about. I prefer expressionism and impressionism. And the ones from the seventeenth and sixteenth century.

pattinase (abbott) said...

With all the stories of CEO greed, this is so refreshing. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling us about this truly great man who was able to effect changes for good in the world AND keep his sense of humor! (Still writing with exclamation points!) :)

I think we (you & I) have misunderstood each other over semantics in our comments at Reb's blog. The concept of a melting pot has never offended me; a good pot of soup or chili tastes better because of its varied ingredients. I think both Canada and the United States are stronger & "more flavorful" :) because of the variety of cultures within our populations.
I do believe that some assimilation is necessary. In the past, this *has* been carried too far; your example of anglicizing names highlighted one way assimilation was taken too far. (My grandmother's maiden name was terribly mispronounced.) This would be an example of what I refer to as "a dull brown or beige" sort of melting pot, rather than a swirl of beautiful colors or a rich tapestry.
The fear of others different from ourselves has resulted in awful & embarrassing parts of U.S. history, including Japanese internment camps during WWII. This is a tragic example of what a government can do to its citizens and those within its borders who are not citizens by law. Another example would be from the days of race segregation and "separate but equal." That way of thinking --which we know and recognize as false-- damaged everyone. When a culture keeps to itself within a larger society, the fear of the unknown grows on both sides of the fence that has been erected (whether to keep ourselves isolated or to keep others out). I feel that we all benefit when different cultures can share with one another.

All countries have borders, and yes, the borders are political. The immigration issues being politicized in our recent election are dual-pronged. There are lawful ways to enter the U.S. (and yes, there is probably reform work needed to make that less difficult for many); there are also many people who illegally enter the country. Because of the political arguments, I choose to refrain from discussing illegal immigration.

Thank you for an excellent discussion today, and for visiting my blog, too.

Unknown said...

What a lovely and very interesting tribute. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of this great man with your town, the world.

Sepiru Chris said...

Reader Wil,

He was.


It is.


I am delighted you stopped over and we resolved the issues.

Passage of a Woman,

You are very welcome.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful tribute. I had the great pleasure of working for Ambassador Beesley in Vienna. He truly was a great man, and I am saddened by his passing.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Anonymous,

You are very welcome, and thank you for your kind words.

If you chance to come back, there is an online guest book for friends and family found here:

Memorial Guestbook

Warmest regards,

Unknown said...

Chris : Thanks to your post folks like me will understand the contributions of man. Thanks for the informative post that makes up empathise with you. May his soul rest in peace.

Linda McLaughlin said...

He sounds like a remarkable man. The world needs more thoughtful and dedicated leaders like Mr. Beesley.

Sepiru Chris said...

T and S,

You are very welcome, and thank you.


I would agree with you, it does. Fortunately for us, they exist.


Barbara Martin said...

I had heard of his passing, but, you, sir, have provided a lasting and wonderful tribute to so fine a man.

Merisi said...

Thank you, Chris, for taking the time to commemorate this truly great Canadian servant of mankind. It is a sad state of affairs that the work of so many great people like J. Alan Beesley is done in relative obscurity. Members of the fourth estate are sent out to cover the newest "scandals" rather than dig deeper into knowledge about the weavers of the fabric that holds together our lives.

Junosmom said...

Dear Chris, you are right - I'd never heard of him. It makes one wonder, doesn't it, about all the people that were good people who significantly changed our world - yet went virtually unknown. Such people deserve a tribute, and you wrote it eloquently.

Thank you, btw, for your award to me and the tribute you paid to me.

Sepiru Chris said...

Thank you very much.


I could not have said it better (I only would have said it longer).


It does make you wonder. Thank goodness there are so many people that do right for their world.

And you are more than welcome.


Pat Flaxman said...

I also had the pleasure of working for "Bees" at the U.N. in 1962. He was one of a kind. He had a wonderful personality, great wit, very approachable and had a wicked sense of humour. He was very easy to love. He will be deeply missed.