Father pays tribute at funeral for US diplomat killed in Afghanistan
By Vikki Ortiz Healy | Chicago Tribune | Published: April 18, 2013
CHICAGO -- Facing a church packed with both loved ones and people he'd never met, the father of Anne Smedinghoff described the wonder he felt knowing that the little girl who asked him to stay a few steps back as she peddled Girl Scout cookies to neighbors grew up to be a U.S. diplomat helping people around the world.
"We're just so very proud of what she was doing and all the great work," said Tom Smedinghoff of his daughter, who died earlier this month in the line of duty.
In a strong, composed voice, Smedinghoff inspired laughs when he told those gathered for his daughter's funeral at St. Luke Church in River Forest, Ill., that Anne had been a negotiator since she was 3 years old, cutting deals with her parents over how many vegetables she had to eat in order to get dessert.
When it came time to drop her off at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for college, Smedinghoff's courageous and independent spirit was on display again when she nicely told her parents they could leave so she could start getting settled.
"She was not one to sit around," her father said. "She wanted to get out and do things."
After Smedinghoff joined the foreign service, her father logged onto his Facebook account to find pictures of his daughter smiling with a boa constrictor around her neck, another of her paragliding over a ravine. And when family members visited her at her first post in Caracas, Venezuela, she was eager to show them waterfalls.
"We lived vicariously through Anne," he said. "The foreign service really was a perfect fit for her."
Officials have said Smedinghoff, 25, was killed April 6 with four other Americans while on a mission to deliver textbooks to children as the group traveled on foot in the southern province of Zabul in Afghanistan.
A 2005 graduate of Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Ill., Smedinghoff had volunteered for the assignment, where she served as an assistant information officer.
At the funeral Mass in the community where she grew up, hundreds of mourners in the church greeted her flag-covered casket with lit candles. Many carried white roses. Close relatives wore tiny American flags on their lapel.
Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, in remarks made on behalf of the State Department, said Smedinghoff quickly stood out as someone special, and in just three years as a diplomat made meaningful contributions.
In Afghanistan, she championed the rights of women and children, appeared on Afghan television in the hopes of pointing out the similarities between the Muslim holiday Eid and American Thanksgiving, and helped to organize a rock concert for 30 young musicians.
Smedinghoff successfully worked to get American media coverage for the film "Buzkashi Boys," starring two Afghan teens and filmed in Kabul. Her grace and sense of leadership made her a natural choice when she was given the plum assignment of shepherding Secretary of State John Kerry around Afghanistan on a recent visit, Kennedy said.
And though she could have picked anywhere for her next post after completing the assignment in war-torn Afghanistan, she purposely chose Algeria, where she hoped to help its people, Kennedy said.
"Anne truly represented the best of all of us," he said.
Tom Smedinghoff expressed heartfelt thanks on behalf of his wife, Mary Beth, and Anne's three siblings to family members, friends and members of the community who had expressed their support since her death.
The family has received touching cards, emails _ and even the promise of a Purple Heart medal from a veteran of the Vietnam War they'd never met. Seemingly every tree in River Forest has had a white ribbon tied around its trunk since last week with an American flag nearby in the grass.
"It is so absolutely tremendous, so gratifying, to drive down the street and see ribbons everywhere," Smedinghoff said.
But he noted that, while his daughter was doing great things, it was something less grandiose that made her life remarkable.
"She did a lot of things that in many respects, were very simple things, but very meaningful and very, very important," he said. "I think that's what set her apart _ she was always smiling at everybody she met. She was always trying to include people and help people."
He ended his remarks, his voice finally breaking, by quoting the first line of a prayer that he thought described his daughter well: "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."
This undated photo provided by Tom Smedinghoff, shows Anne Smedinghoff. Anne Smedinghoff, 25, was killed Saturday, April 6, 2013 in southern Afghanistan , the first American diplomat to die on the job since last year's attack on the U.S. diplomatic installation in Benghazi, Libya.
Courtesy of Tom Smedinghoff