Sir Brian Urquhart, a foundational leader of the United Nations who played a central role in developing the U.N. peacekeeping operations, the world body’s flagship activity, has died, aged 101.
Expressing his sadness over Urquhart’s death, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres led the tributes to the “legendary long-time United Nations official”, saying that his “imprint on the United Nations was as profound as that of anyone in the Organization’s history”.
Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram joined the tributes, calling him “one of the strongest advocates” of UN principles and purposes, a dedicated international civil servant, adding, “his example should be the template for the revival of positive multilateralism.”
Urquhart, a British national, was present at the birth of the UN in 1945 and was witness to many of the Organization’s – and the world’s – most historic 20th Century moments.
Throughout his four decades of service to the UN, starting as one of its very first staff members and ending as an Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs, he also helped shape history himself.
As Under-Secretary-General — he retired from service in 1986 — Urquhart’s main functions were the direction of peacekeeping forces in the Middle East and Cyprus, and negotiations in these two areas; amongst others, his contributions also included work on the negotiations relating to a Namibia peace settlement, negotiations in Kashmir, Lebanon and work on peaceful uses for nuclear energy.
As one of the Organization’s earliest employees, he set the standard for the international civil service. https://t.co/P2grly5aLS pic.twitter.com/oNleAj8clk— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) January 3, 2021
Until his retirement in 1986, the long-serving official worked as a principal adviser to five UN secretaries-general, directed 13 peacekeeping operations, recruited 10,000 troops from 23 countries and instituted peacekeeping as one of the core tenets of the Organization.
“He set the standard for the international civil service: dedicated and impartial”, the UN chief said in his statement.
“As an aide to Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, he helped to define the UN’s scope of action in addressing armed conflict and other global challenges.
And as a close associate of Ralph Bunche, the renowned UN official and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Sir Brian helped to establish and then propel international peacekeeping into wide-ranging use,” Guterres added.
In his memoir, A Life in Peace and War, about the UN’s earliest days, Urquhart wrote: “We were all optimists…who believed in the possibility of organizing a peaceful and just world”.?
“Across the decades, in service to several of my predecessors, Sir Brian(’s)… involvement in global affairs continued well after the end of his UN career through extensive writings that included definitive biographies of Hammarskjöld and Bunche”, said the UN chief.?
And Urquhart maintained that optimism across his life, shaping the United Nations and history itself.
“He was also a mentor for UN staff and countless young people as they pursued their careers”, said the Secretary-General. “We are grateful for his brilliant and incomparable contributions as a stalwart servant of ‘we the peoples’”.
Urquhart joined the Ford Foundation after he retired and wrote books and frequent commentaries for The New York Review of Books and other publications. His books include a 1987 autobiography, “A Life in Peace and War,” as well as books on United Nations leaders and operations.
Urquhart’s son, Thomas, told reporters that he died at his home in Tyringham, Massachusetts, on Saturday but didn’t provide a specific cause. He is survived by his wife, his five children, a stepson, 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.