Remarks by Administrator Raj Shah at AFSA/State Department Memorial for Toni Tomasek

Friday, May 2, 2014

[As Prepared]

Good morning.

Thank you, President Silverman, Deputy Secretary Higginbottom, Director General Hans Klemm, Father Moretti, and Stacy Rhodes for joining us.

We gather today not only with humility and respect, but profound appreciation, as we celebrate Toni’s life and commitment to service.  

Our thoughts and prayers this morning are with Toni’s family—her husband Adam, her vibrant children Alex and Amelie, her mother Marilyn, and members of her family: Jeannine, William, Hillary, Sadie Rose and Mollie Jane, Sarah, Mary, Daniel, and Michelene.

And our thoughts are also with Toni’s friends who live around the world—ensuring that Toni’s spirit will continue to travel with each of you, touching new communities far and wide.

Yesterday, we held a service at USAID, where we placed a title on our Memorial Wall—just as we are doing today.

Towards the end of the day, long after the service had concluded, I walked past the wall on my way home—and noticed a few folks standing quietly by the wreaths of flowers. They paused reading each title, taking inspiration from the names of our fallen colleagues who had died in service to a noble mission.

We honor the sacrifices of these diplomatic and development colleagues, whose quiet, often unheralded work to save lives and advance human dignity represented the best of our American values to the world.

They have advanced these values in some of the toughest corners of the world through our long-term quest to end hunger and child death; strengthen peace and security; and provide help when disaster strikes.

This mission serves as the forward defense of our nation. It keeps us safe; it keeps us prosperous. And we honor the names on the walls of both our institutions whose courage in this service knew no bounds.

As many of you know, Toni was a community health specialist with years of experience bringing life-saving services to those in greatest need—from migrant communities in the U.S. to rural families in Indonesia and Haiti.

No challenge was too big or too complex for Toni, but just in case things got tough, she always kept a bowl of chocolates on her desk for her colleagues.

She designed groundbreaking programs to work directly with local organizations and served as principal author for a new Global Health Strategy to guide our work with greater focus.

“I never saw her without a smile on her face,” one friend remembered.

Over the last several months, I have heard from Toni’s colleagues around the world who wanted to share their memories of her compassion, vitality, and humanity.

They spoke of her love of running and wellspring of energy as she competed in ultra-marathons from Asia to North America.

Her friends spoke of her deep pride in Alex and Amelie—and described how she would arrive at work in the morning brimming with news of their swim meets.

And they spoke of her generosity—how Toni learned to knit so she could make handmade gifts for her friends.

After Toni’s death, her health team gathered in Haiti—first to grieve and them to discuss how they could best honor her legacy. They committed to redoubling their efforts to accomplish the work that Toni had begun.

Our colleagues in Haiti are not alone.

I recently had the privilege of sharing a little bit about Toni’s uncommon dedication before a gathering of global leaders at the National Prayer Breakfast—and I saw how her spirit of commitment inspired people from all walks of life.

In 2009, as a new officer at USAID, Toni wrote: “I want to be remembered as a passionate person who believed that we all can make a positive difference in the lives of others, if we just give it a try.”

There is no doubt today that this is how we will always remember Toni—a beloved family member, a heroic USAID Foreign Service Officer, and a cherished friend.  

Thank you.

Last updated: May 02, 2014

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