Presidents, Colleagues, Friends and Family Fete Professor Robert Pastor
Longtime friends, colleagues and family, including former President Jimmy Carter, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and AU president Neil Kerwin, surprised Professor Robert Pastor on Tuesday, March 5 at an event organized to honor Pastor for his 40 years of contributions to public policy as a scholar, public intellectual and government official.
A closely closeted contingent plotted the event in secret for over a year. SIS Professor Philip Brenner and University Chaplain Joe Eldridge conspired with Mrs. Margaret Pastor, SIS events coordinator Kristi-Anne Caisse, Jennifer McCoy, director of the Carter Center's Latin American Program and a cadre of secret service officials to pull off the surprise luncheon and panel discussions. Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, and most of Pastor's family - his children and siblings - traveled from across the country to pay tribute to him and tease him gently.
It wasn't easy, said Margaret Pastor, who had to wrench his friends' contact information from the professor, "Bob's control of information is tighter than the CIA." Dean James Goldgeier said he'd never witnessed such secrecy - "Joe [Eldridge] and Phil [Brenner] spoke in a whisper about the event even in my office."
AU President Neil Kerwin disagreed. "I can't think of a piece of information that Bob's held tightly when he wanted me to see it," said Kerwin. He described Pastor's impressive body of work, including: publishing 27 books, founding the Center for North American Studies and the Center for Democracy and Election Management at AU, and as university vice president, establishing the American University of Nigeria, and initiating new programs on language immersion and "Abroad at AU." Pastor also served in government as National Security Advisor for Latin America, and he was a Senior Fellow and director of programs on democracy, Latin America, and China at the Carter Center.
Goldgeier described Pastor as, "an idea machine. The other word I'd use to describe him is relentless. That man is relentless in pursuit of those ideas. You have to appreciate his passion."
Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, said Pastor's contributions were remarkable, but he wasn't always convinced they would be.
"My original encounter with Bob was not pleasant," said Carter. He said entering his presidency, the country faced serious problems with Latin American - especially Cuba after a 25-year embargo. He asked his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to get the best person he could find to be his assistant on Latin American issues. Then, said Carter, "He brought in this child." Pastor was 28 years old at the time.
Carter said by the time he left office the U.S. had a peace treaty with Panama, and many Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, etc. - had transformed from dictatorships to democracies, "…because of the human rights policy Bob urged me to pass."
Describing the origins of his global, election-monitoring efforts with Pastor, Carter said Pastor went to China and came back suggesting they monitor "650,000 elections in as many Chinese villages. We did it." Pastor played a critical role in crises in Panama and Haiti, and for his knowledge and service, President Clinton nominated Pastor as the U.S. Ambassador to Panama. President Carter noted with regret that his fourth cousin, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), who was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, successfully blocked Pastor's appointment.
"Bob induces people around him to reach beyond themselves, and I'm thankful that Bob has helped me reach beyond myself," said Carter.
Brzezinski echoed President Carter in his description of Pastor; but he added the adjectives "persistent, even obnoxious," with obvious admiration, to the oft mentioned "relentless," used to describe the professor and diplomat.
Brzezinski said asking this "child" to join his staff set off "shock waves," but later the treaty with Panama was a moment of triumph. "The time was right for fundamental change in U.S.-Latin American relations," he said, explaining his goal with Pastor's help was to establish "a pattern more symmetrical to our relationship with Europe and other parts of the world."
Rosalynn Carter proffered another perspective on one of her favorite people with a gentle ribbing.
"When I first got to know Bob, Jimmy had called him in and said, 'Bob, I need someone to go to Latin America and explain my policy." He watched his face light up, only to droop as Carter finished his message. "I want you to accompany my wife." She said his face went from "chance of a lifetime" to "saddled with the first lady," in no time.
Pastor expressed his gratitude to the Carters, saying that they were like second parents to him and adding that, "They raised the country and the world to heights I hadn't anticipated." He responded to the tributes and teases of his friends and colleagues with delight. "I'm overwhelmed to see people came from all over - across the country even Mexico and Toronto - not to mention Capitol Hill!"