United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday expressed his “deep sadness” at the passing of legendary long-time UN official Brian Urquhart, who died Saturday at the age of 101.
“I am deeply saddened at the passing of Sir Brian Urquhart, the legendary long-time United Nations official. I offer condolences to his family and to his legions of admirers within and beyond the United Nations,” the UN chief said in a statement.
“Sir Brian’s imprint on the United Nations was as profound as that of anyone in the organization’s history. As one of the organization’s earliest employees, he set the standard for the international civil service: dedicated and impartial. As an aide to Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, he helped to define the UN’s scope of action in addressing armed conflict and other global challenges. And as a close associate of Ralph Bunche, the renowned UN official and Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner, Sir Brian helped to establish and then propel international peacekeeping into wide-ranging use,” the statement added.
“Across the decades, in service to several of my predecessors, Sir Brian was at the center of formative global events, from the Congo to the Middle East. His involvement in global affairs continued well after the end of his UN career through extensive writings that included definitive biographies of Hammarskjold and Bunche. He was also a mentor for UN staff and countless young people as they pursued their careers,” the statement said.
The statement noted that in his memoir, A Life in Peace and War, about the earliest days of the United Nations, Brian said that “We were all optimists … who believed in the possibility of organizing a peaceful and just world,” the Xinhua news agency reported.
“Sir Brian Urquhart maintained that optimism across his life, shaping the United Nations and history itself. We are grateful for his brilliant and incomparable contributions as a stalwart servant of ‘we the peoples,'” the statement added.
Urquhart was a member of the British diplomatic staff involved in the setting-up of the United Nations in 1945, assisting the Executive Committee of the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations in establishing the administrative framework of the organization that had been created by the UN Charter. He subsequently became an aide to Trygve Lie, the first secretary-general of the United Nations. Urquhart helped handle the administrative and logistical challenges involved in getting the UN established in New York City. Not particularly well liked by Lie, Urquhart was subsequently moved to a minor UN administrative post. When Dag Hammarskjold became the second secretary-general in 1953, however, he appointed Urquhart as one of his main advisors. He loyally served by Hammarskjold’s side until the latter’s death in 1961, admiring him greatly in spite of admittedly never getting to know him very well on a personal level.
As undersecretary-general, Urquhart’s main functions were the direction of peacekeeping forces in the Middle East and Cyprus, and negotiations in these two areas; among others, his contributions also included work on the negotiations relating to a Namibia peace settlement, negotiations in Kashmir, Lebanon and work on peaceful uses for nuclear energy.