FROM: THE STATE DEPARTMENT
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
February 2, 2015
Marten Grunditz’s career as a diplomat spanned more than four decades. He was first posted as an attaché to the Swedish Mission in Moscow in 1973, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. He went on to serve in Beijing, Washington, London, Geneva, Athens, and, of course, here in New York. He was a dexterous and deep diplomat.
Here at the UN, Ambassador Grunditz led the joint Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS, where he pressed for far-reaching reforms, such as the public disclosure of internal audits. He also chaired the Liberia Configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission, sounding the alarm bell early and ardently for the international community to respond to the spreading Ebola outbreak. He was also determined to ensure that Liberia and its neighbors were built back better – so what has befallen the people of that region never happens again.
Among the first impressions many of us had upon meeting Marten was his sheer physical presence. He towered above virtually all of us. But the Ambassador’s personality and the way he treated people had the opposite effect: it made him accessible; it brought him close. And this was not only the case for fellow ambassadors, but for everyone he interacted with – from the most junior intern to the most senior advisor, as well as to people of all walks and ranks at UN agencies and other missions.
A ranking diplomat on his staff who worked with Ambassador Grunditz for years observed that – when he chaired meetings during his time at the head of the joint Executive Board – he always made a point of thanking every secretary and member of the support staff who had helped organize the event. As this diplomat described it, Marten Grunditz had, “an ability to recognize people.” An ability to recognize people.
Ambassador Grunditz also knew how to listen. In diplomatic settings that can too often feel automated, he would actually stop and pay attention to people’s opinions and arguments. He would engage you, ask questions, probe. He treated everybody as if he had something to learn from them.
These qualities not only made the Ambassador an exceptional human being, but also, of course, an exceptional diplomat. Knowing how to recognize people, and how to listen to them, defined the way he interacted with individuals at his postings around the world, with people in this General Assembly hall, at the negotiating table, and in leadership positions at the UN.
And these qualities also defined what the Ambassador believed in. A person who sees people as they are, and knows how to hear them, is a natural humanitarian and a natural defender of human rights – as Ambassador Grunditz certainly was, believing to his core that no individual should be treated differently because she is a woman, because of who he or she loves, because of how he or she prays, or because of where she is born.
It is also these qualities that made Marten such a wonderful mentor to his staff. The respect with which he treated people at the Swedish Mission and in previous postings bred a deep loyalty and dedication in those who served under him. It is why, when the Swedish Mission put out a sign-up sheet for staffers to stand by his condolence book and receive visitors, the sheet filled up immediately, and multiple staffers showed up for each shift. It was their way of performing a final service to a man who had taught them so much, and to stand in his honor.
I witnessed that dedication the day Marten passed away. After a meeting hosted by the Swedish Foreign Minister Wallström, a young Swedish diplomat walked me to the elevator, her eyes filled up with tears and she said, “We can’t believe it…He was such a good man.” How right she was. And how shaped she will be, always, by the time that she got to watch him in action, and learn from him.
Ambassador Marten Grunditz gave nearly his entire professional career to the Swedish Foreign Service. It gave him back not only a chance to defend his values and serve his nation, but also led him to his life partner, Maine – who he met decades ago in the diplomatic corps – and who is here with us today. Along with one of the Ambassador’s two children, Genny.
As all of us in this line of work know diplomacy is not a solo occupation; our families serve with us; they weather the excessive hours and the stresses, and they sustain us. As Ambassador Grunditz’s career spanned decades, so did his family’s service alongside him. For that, we are so grateful to you – Maine, and to you, Genny, and of course to your son, Henrik, as well – and we hope that the immeasurable loss you must feel is softened ever so slightly by seeing the tremendous contribution Marten made to his country, to the United Nations, to the causes he believed in, and to all of us – who learned so much from his towering example. Thank you.