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Feature Story:

Remembering Kirby Simon

The author, a Paris-based Foreign Service officer who declined a byline, hopes the article will encourage interest in the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust and help others look at their own lives, values and ability to make a difference.

Kirby Simon was completing his first Foreign Service tour in Taiwan when the 33-year-old junior officer died in April 1995 from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The sudden and tragic loss of Mr. Simon--due to a faulty heater in his government-leased apartment--left a tremendous gap in the lives of those who knew and loved him and in the Foreign Service. At a gathering in New York following his death, family members and friends from around the world honored a brief life filled with extraordinary achievements and marked by acts of volunteerism. Through the stories they shared, they remembered the witty, outspoken prankster whom one former colleague called "the first one invited to every party, and the last one to complain about a lousy day...the first to hold the door open and the last to walk though."

Kirby Simon, his friends remembered, loved his three years in the Foreign Service. One former supervisor remembered that "For Kirby, the important part of the Foreign Service was service." A co-worker recalled that he "was passionately committed" to the causes he believed in, and another, that he "made no apologies for standing up for what he believed was right," while "bringing constant joy to other people."

Struggling with their sudden loss, John and Claire Simon chose to memorialize their only child in a way that reflected how he lived--through giving and service. They established the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust four years ago this month as a charitable fund with the primary goal of expanding opportunities for professional and community service and the personal well-being of active Foreign Service officers and their families.

Since its inception, the trust has funded 25 projects in 24 countries spanning all geographic regions. Grants have ranged from $400 to $4,000, for total funding of more than $40,000.

All the projects assisted through the trust are initiated and carried out in an unofficial capacity and not on official time by Foreign Service members, their family members and other U.S. government employees, regardless of nationality, serving at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad.

To date, the trust has funded projects that assist facilities for disabled persons, ecological projects, libraries, facilities for children, educational expeditions, summer day care programs, teachers' training, shelters for abused women and writing competitions. It has also sponsored recreational sports teams for men and women.

Elizabeth Dunkel, who helped found the Merida English Library in Mexico thanks largely to the trust, called the J. Kirby Simon Trust grant "a gift from heaven."

"We are a struggling group of Americans of all ages, who, through sheer force of will and desire have created a library out of nothing," she reported to the trust's board of directors. "We have grown immensely thanks in large part to the trust your gift inspired in us and others."

All nine trustees on the board of directors knew Kirby well and have been involved with the Foreign Service either professionally or as family members. Five of the trustees were Foreign Service officers who served with Kirby in Taiwan or attended his same A-100 Foreign Service officer orientation class training. After reviewing proposals, the trustees vote annually on which submissions best support trust goals and Mr. Simon's memory. The trustees are currently evaluating 42 proposals and will announce awardees this month.

The J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust has received contributions from 140 individuals and six family foundations. One of the most unusual gifts--one that board members say represents Kirby's own brand of originality--came from someone who received a speeding ticket and was permitted by the traffic court to direct the $75 fine to the trust rather than to the state treasury.

To many, the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust represents the highest ideals and the best of the spirit of the Foreign Service. "To me, this story is magical on so many levels. It's about selflessness and service, it's about parental love and it's about doing the unexpected," noted one Foreign Service officer who has watched and marveled at the work of the trust since its creation.

"But most of all, this is a story about remarkable people. By all accounts, Kirby was an extraordinary junior officer--a rising star and a wonderful human being. The trust supports the work of other terrific members of our community--those who use scarce personal time to try to make a difference."

The Foreign Service officer said the trust and its work reveal a heartwarming story about the family and friends of Kirby Simon, noting, "Their courage, strength and wisdom to move beyond their pain to start this generous trust should set an example for us all."

For More Information

For more information about the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust, visit its web site at www. yale.edu/lawweb/lawfac/simon/trust.htm, call (203) 432-2698, fax (203) 432-0063 or write to: J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust, 82 Edgehill Road, New Haven, CT 06511. Proposals for funding by the trust are solicited each year through Department Notices, American Foreign Service Association cables, and advertisements and announcements in State Magazine, The Foreign Service Journal and other publications.

J. Kirby Simon Trust Projects Supported During 1997­98

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