Friday, 12 October 2007

Memories of Henrik Beer

My fondest memories of Henrik was on a snowy Geneva winter day Dec 1978 or Jan 1979 when I was a young desk officer at the secretariat. I was duty officer and needed to check the telex for urgent messages. As the snow was quite thick, I didn't want to get stranded in my car, so I skiied in with my 20 month old daughter, warmly wrapped, on my back, the 3 km to the office. On arrival I went up to the telex room to find Henrik Beer watching the results of the first run of a Men's Slalom event coming through on the AFP teleprinter. Of course he was following the progress of fellow Swede Ingamar Stenmark. He was delighted to see me and made a big fuss over Anita. After the results came through and I had done my duty officer work, he invited me to his office and we had a long talk and he produced a bottle of schnaps.

Anita was crawling and walking around the office of this famous man and Henrik was so warm and engaging with her. He asked me how old I was and I said, " 31 years. " You have a bright future, and remember one thing. Red Cross is not political but to survive and flourish in this organisation, you must understand politics."

Skiing home that late afternoon, glowing inside from the schnaps, I felt I had really sat at the foot of the Guru. They were the days before "Zero Tolerance."

In late 1981, just before Henrik Beer retired, I hosted him on his last field visit. I was then working in Southern India where the League of Red Cross Societies were running a massive construction project, that of building 233 cyclone shelters along the 2000 km of cyclone prone coastine in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. It was with a great sense of pride thatI escorted Henrik on his last visit. As we travelled together from Madras, he asked me, "How is Anita." He had remembered her name from that snowy Geneva day when she played in his office. That was typical of Henrik beer, he loved people and his work.

Another memory or more precisely, was a souvenir that I had for more than 20 years. In the late 1970's, the League sold off a lot of old furniture replacing it with modern stuff. I bought Henrik's coffee table and used to think of all the world's statesmen and women that had discussed the leading global humanitarian issues of the day. People like Dag Hammerskold, U Thant, Indira Gandhi, Agha Khan had sipped tea, coffee and water from that table.

Bob McKerrow

Carl Naucler and Alistair Henley

I have just come back from a Red Cross meeting in Kuala Lumpur and it was enjoyable ralking to people who knew Henrik Beer. The first head of the Federation's Asia and Pacific Zone, Alistair Henley, worked in Geneva for almost ten years while Henrik was secretary general, and spoke of him as man of great vision and leadership skills.

Carl Naucler knew Henrik for about 20 years and recalled Henrik's son Johannes coming to work with him as a volunteer in Nepal.