Slain U.S. Ambassador to Libya Tied to Bay Area

His quote in his Piedmont High yearbook was: "What a bore it is, waking up in the morning always the same person."

By RJ Middleton, Lisa Fernandez, Jodi Hernandez and Christie Smith
|  Thursday, Sep 20, 2012  |  Updated 3:59 PM PDT
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Christopher Stevens grew up in the Bay Area and attended UC Hastings and UC Berkeley. He played tennis at Piedmont High in the 1970s.

Christopher Stevens grew up in the Bay Area and attended UC Hastings and UC Berkeley. He played tennis at Piedmont High in the 1970s.

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Libyan Ambassador Attended 3 Bay Area Schools

U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, who was killed in an attack on Sept. 11, attended Piedmont High School, UC Berkeley and UC Hastings School of Law, where Dean Frank Wu talks about Stevens' honor. Christie Smith reports.

Raw Video: Former Cal Roommate Talks about Slain Ambassador

Steven McDonald, who went to UC Berkeley with slain U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, talks about his former roommate. He describes Stevens as "positive" and "undeterred."
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U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, who was killed along with three embassy members in Libya, had strong Bay Area ties -- from playing tennis at Piedmont High to getting a law degree in San Francisco.

He was described by colleagues and former teachers as unflappable, upbeat, honorable and courageous.

George Scharffenberger spent the day thinking about his friend and former fellow peace corp member. Scharffenberger served with Stevens in the Peace Corp in the 1980's. Scharffenberger says even back then, Stevens dreamed of becoming a diplomat

"He just fell in love with Morocco and that part of the world and I think it was the spark that shaped the rest of the career," Scharffenberger said.

"He had such a positive energy," said Steven McDonald, who was Stevens' roommate at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1980s, and had last seen Stevens at his parents home in Piedmont shortly before he was named ambassador. "He was undeterred."

University of California at Hastings College of Law Chancellor Dean Frank H. Wu told NBC Bay Area Wednesday morning that losing Stevens was quite a loss. The 52-year-old Stevens graduated with a law degree in 1989, and had talked with Wu recently about coming back at some point to talk about his experiences with the students.

"To have served as a United States ambassador ... that is the highest honor," Wu said. And for a lawyer to have made a career in public service, Wu added: "That is what the profession is at its best."

UC Hastings Law Professor David Levine kept in touch with Steven, a former student, through the years. Levine says he's not at all surprised Stevens gave his life trying to save others.

"He could have literally sent in the Marines. He wanted to be there he wanted go take his people get them back to safety. He knew he was taking a risk, he went and did it anyway what more do you need to know?" Levine said.

"If this country wanted to send out the best of our country, he epitomized the best of our country they couldn't do better than Chris Stevens. He was just that kind of a good guy," Scharffenberger added.

On Tuesday, the Northern California native and three other embassy staff members were killed in Libya, in an attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. Stevens died of suffocation following a grenade attack and subsequent structure fire.

The motive, officials explained, was a mob enraged by an obscure film produced by a man who said he was from California and called Islam a "cancer" and ridiculed the religion's prophet.

Stevens' death marked the first U.S. diplomat to die in the line of duty since 1979, and came on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

According to the U.S. Department of State, Stevens earned his undergraduate at the UC  Berkeley in 1982 and a law degree at UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco seven years later. He also has a master's degree from the National War College in 2010.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said in a statement that Stevens studied history at Cal, after which he joined the Peace Corps in the 1980s, giving him an "abiding interest in, and passion for, the Middle East."

Birgeneau added: "His life epitomized the best of UC Berkeley’s graduates, a commitment to excellence at the highest level and a passion for making the world a better and more peaceful place."

Stevens' father, Jan Stevens, also went to Cal, earning a science and law degree in the 1950s, Birgeneau said.

Stevens also was the son of retired Marin Symphony cellist Mary Commanday, and stepson of

San Francisco Classical Voice founder Robert Commanday, who stated in the article that Stevens played saxophone, "about at the Bill Clinton level, but marginally in public."

His brother, Thomas Stevens, is an assistant U.S. Attorney in San Francisco.  His sister, Anne Stevens, is a doctor at Seattle Children's Hospital.

When NBC Bay Area went to the Thomas Stevens' home Wednesday morning, his wife, Dana, said that the family needed privacy right now, as they awaited Stevens' mother and stepfather to return from a trip in Yosemite.

 Before heading off to university, Stevens graduated from Piedmont High School in 1978. The current principal, Rich Kitchens, told NBC Bay Area that the teen-aged Stevens played tennis,  was a Model United Nations member, and edited the award-winning school newspaper, the Highlander. His quote in the yearbook was: "What a bore it is, waking up in the morning always the same person. I wish I were unflinching and emphatic and had big eyebrows and a Message for the Age."

McDonald, Stevens' former Cal roommate, said the entire Stevens family was dedicated to service. Stevens himself gave up a lucrative law career, McDonald said, to work for the State Department - a job he applied for several times.

McDonald said while friends and family feared for the risks Stevens took while working in the Middle East, Stevens seemed to shrug off any fears. Once, when McDonald emailed him about whether people in Libya were shooting at him, Stevens answered back: "Well, not on purpose." (see the interview with McDonald above to the left)

Before being appointed to his post in Libya in May, Stevens served twice before in Libya and was also in the Peace Corps, teaching English in Morocco from 1983 to 1985. He spoke Arabic and French.

He said he was "thrilled" to return to Libya again in February 2011 and to watch the country's people "stand up and demand their rights."

"Now I'm excited to return to Libya to continue the great work we've started building a solid partnership between the United States in Libya to help you, the Libyan people, to achieve your goals," Stevens said in a video announcing his appointment.

Stevens' mother told the San Francisco Classical Voice magazine in April that her son had "stayed with insurgents, supporting their progress to Tripoli and the overthrow of (dictator Muammar Khaddafy)."

President Barack Obama also released a statement about the attack, characterizing it as "outrageous." In regards to Stevens, the president's statement read:

On a personal note, Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya’s transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my Administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and other leaders, including several who represent California, chimed in, too.

Democratic leader and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that she condemned the "heinous" and "brazen" assault. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents the East Bay, described Stevens as "unflappable."

 It wasn't just Democrats who spoke in support of Stevens.

Former Secretary of State and current Hoover Institution Stanford University professor Condoleezza Rice, a Republican, issued a statement to NBC Bay Area, calling Stevens a "wonderful officer and a terrific diplomat who was dedicated to the cause of freedom. His service in the Middle East was legendary."

In a rare show of emotion from the Senate floor in Washington, D.C., Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), called Stevens "one of America's finest and bravest foreign service officers," whom he called "selfless," "dedicated," and a friend.

McCain recalled a time last April in Benghazi, where Stevens had traveled at "great personal risk" as Libya was "gripped in a brutal fight for freedom." Despite the risks, McCain said, "it was clear there was nowhere that Chris would have been than Libya." Not only that, McCain said Stevens made a mean cup of coffee - cappuccino to be exact - a drink Stevens personally made for the senator and a "task he carried out with as much pride and proficiency as his diplomatic mission."

One other person killed was Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer. The names of the other two have not yet been released as their families have yet to be notified.


Libya's interim president, Mohammed el-Megarif, apologized for what he called the "cowardly" assault on the consulate, which also killed several Libyan security guards in the eastern city. Violence also flared in Egypt, where crowds protesting the film at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo climbed its walls and tore down an American flag, which they replaced briefly with a black, Islamist flag.

Before Tuesday, five U.S. ambassadors had been killed in the line of duty, the last being Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979, according to the State Department.

The two-hour movie that sparked the protests, titled "Innocence of Muslims," came to attention in Egypt after its trailer was dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube.

A man who identified himself as a California real estate developer, said he wrote, produced and directed the movie. Video excerpts posted on YouTube depict Islam's holiest leader, the Prophet Muhammad, as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly ridiculing way, showing him having sex and calling for massacres.

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: The UC Berkeley Alpha Tau Omega House is holding a vigil for Stevens, who had been a fraternity brother there, on  Wednesday at 9 p.m. at 2327 Warring Street in Berkeley.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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