by: Matthew Stevenson
When I moved to Switzerland in the 1990s, the American senator and former presidential candidate, George McGovern, told me: “There is one American that you have to meet in Geneva. That’s Andy Sundberg.” I did not met him until a sad occasion, much like the one here today.
For a memorial service in Geneva for Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Senator McGovern had sent both to Andy and me a tribute that he asked be read aloud in the American Church.
Andy and I arrived at the service clutching the same letter. I introduced myself to him. There was an awkward moment when we both realized that we had been sent on the same mission. Finally I said to Andy, “Why don’t we both give the same eulogy, and let’s see if anyone is listening?”
His response was that joyful, belly laugh that all of us can hear so clearly. From that shared laughter on, Andy and I were friends—a friendship that spanned lunches and dinners, conversations about presidential elections, thousands of e-mails (his more than mine), and those phone calls wondering why I was always so late to one of his luncheons.
Most of all, because his experience abroad was mine, I responded to Andy the expatriate, the American who was making a life in a foreign land.
Even if he grew up in Japan and Germany, we shared American childhoods. We had the same heroes—Thomas Paine and John F. Kennedy—read the same books and remembered the same elections.
For all I know perhaps we both romanticized the American past—the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address—and demonized the darker present: water-boarding or the shadows of conspiracy on the Grassy Knoll.
I never grew tired of Andy’s stories that linked the America of my reading to the person who was so generously serving me wine, poking at his fire, going to look for more potato chips.
As a boy of about ten in 1950s Washington, D.C., Andy and his sister walked into the office of the Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. Can’t you see the scene? Andy and Barbara, who is here today, walking unannounced into the State Department, asking to see Secretary Acheson. Did the ten-year-old Andy, on entering the large office, ask: “Mr. Secretary, you don’t really believe this line that we’re being fed about the Cold War, now do you?”
As a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in January 1961, Andy attended one of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural balls. I never heard that Andy cut in on Jackie Kennedy (although I would not be surprised), but I do know that he was a favorite son of the New Frontier.
In the entrance to Andy’s and Chantal’s lovely and warm home in Onex, there is a signed photograph of President Kennedy, looking weary on the campaign trail. To me that photograph is a link between Andy and the idealism of the 1960s.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and later in the Vietnam War, Andy was a serving officer in the U.S. Navy—one reason he equated Guantanamo Bay with hallowed ground, not rendition or “unlawful enemy combatants.”
In the Vietnam War, in the waters of the Tonkin Gulf, Andy had a chance encounter with John McCain, later a U.S. Presidential candidate, then a navy pilot on his way to bomb Communist positions in the North.
Andy always thought that in October 1967 he was the last American to speak with McCain before he was shot down over Hanoi and held in prison for six years. Theirs was only a fleeting exchange, over a garbled radio.
McCain’s captivity in the North led him to the House, Senate, and a run for the presidency—as Andy used to say, another bad resolution from the Tonkin Gulf. How we all wish that history had called the other member of that exchange to the U.S. Congress.
Since the conversations that I had with Andy touched on American history, I would be remiss, in this farewell, if I did not recall a few of those in whom he found inspiration, that guided so much of his work with Americans at home and abroad.
He especially admired those American figures with a Swiss connection, as so much of Andy’s life and work can be seen in bringing together what he called “the sister republics.”
Andy loved recalling that our own Founding Father, Albert Gallatin, went from Geneva to the U.S. Treasury, and balanced the books of Revolutionary America. How much nicer did he like that engagement than that of later Americans, so intent on bringing the U.S. Treasury to Switzerland.
Andy loved and admired Thomas Jefferson. With others from the Burlamaqui Society, he and I went together to Jefferson’s Virginia home, Monticello—that American Parthenon of reason, enlightenment, and fine wines. To Andy’s endless delight, Jefferson incorporated from the writings of Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, also from Geneva, the idea that an independent America should not have just “life and liberty,” but embrace the “pursuit of happiness.”
In his life and work, with his friends and family, with those he knew for a lifetime or had just met over lunch, Andy was the embodiment of the spirit in the Declaration of Independence—another reason we never wanted him, as Abraham Lincoln said of representative government at Gettysburg, “to perish from this earth.” Let me close with other words from Lincoln, that melancholic optimist of the American soul. In a life so memorable to us all, Andy gave us the “last full measure of his devotion.”