Respect for the word is the first commandment in the discipline by which a man can be educated to maturity — intellectual, emotional, and moral.
Respect for the word — to employ it with scrupulous care and in incorruptible heartfelt love of truth — is essential if there is to be any growth in a society or in the human race.
To misuse the word is to show contempt for man. It undermines the bridges and poisons the wells. It causes Man to regress down the long path of his evolution.
“But I say unto you, that every idle word that men speak…”
~ Dag Hammarskjold “Markings”
This Christmas, I bought myself a copy of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s TO KATANGA AND BACK, and the first thing I did was look for Vladimir Fabry in the index. This is what I found on pages 70-71:
Another important figure on the 6th floor at this time was Vladimir Fabry, an American citizen of Croat origin and ONUC’s legal adviser (‘Special Councelor’). Fabry was a thin-faced young man with a frequent but unamused smile and a stoop brought on by unremitting work. Even in an organization where all the key people worked excessively hard (surrounded, for no apparent reason, by large numbers of non-key officials who seemed to do no work at all) Fabry’s industry stood out. He slept little, he read nothing for pleasure, he had no vices or other hobbies, he simply worked – fourteen to eighteen hours a day. Dealing with paper he was accurate, penetrating and happy; with people he seemed on edge, as if he found them distressingly large and imprecise; and this was especially true of his relations with M Poujoulat. At this time, on first meeting Fabry, I was taken aback, mistaking his uneasy, abstracted air for personal hostility. Later, I came to respect his clarity of mind and to appreciate, and even admire, his lonely integrity. ‘I am an anti-social person’, he told me once, with melancholy pride. It was not true, but what was social in him – his fierce drive to bring some tidiness and predictability into the activities of man – took the impersonal form of a shy, jealous, exclusive loyalty to the abstract and developing idea of the United Nations. It is not unfitting that he should have met his death as he did, on the flight towards Ndola, working for Hammarskjold.
While I agree with a few things he said about Vlado, so much of this is just O’Brien’s opinion, and he doesn’t bother to fact check. Vlado is not “of Croat origin”, he was born in Liptovský Svätý Mikuláš, in the former Czechoslovakia. There is no doubt Vlado was working hard and sleeping little when O’Brien met him – considering the pressure of the situation in the Congo, Vlado was compelled to sacrifice his social life for a greater cause – but O’Brien really didn’t know Vlado as well as he thought he did.
Here are two photos of Vlado at work:
Here he is in Egypt, taking in the sights:
Here are two letters of condolence from September 1961, from friends who knew and loved Vlado:
52 Champs Elysees
My Dear Friends,
Although it may seem selfish, I think the best way I can express my condolence and my sympathy to you is to tell you what Vlado meant to me.
I won’t tell you how much admiration or respect or affection I felt for him. I will tell you only that I think I can honestly say I considered him my best friend – and I was proud of knowing him: and I can say that all the more validly because I knew his faults as well as his virtues. I am very well acquainted with loneliness – but the thought of losing Vlado makes me feel even lonelier.
Please believe that just as I share your grief and sorrow at losing him, so also, since you can be very proud of him, I feel privileged to be able to share, even a little bit, your pride.
With very deep sorrow,
New York, NY
I want to offer you my help in any way I can give it.
He was loved by so many people; he was kind and honest and strong, very strong.
He told me that memories are good to have. He lived with high standards and he died for them. He worked tirelessly in Gaza and the Congo. No tribute will be adequate to his merits.
I write this from his office here, where he spent many evenings alone. He said he liked thick walls and solitude, music and ideas. Of course he was also, at times, very gay, full of the joy of living.
Please accept my silent condolence to you and your mother.
And from the UNEF weekly, THE SAND DUNE, September 22, 1961, here is a tribute to Vlado from friends who understood his devotion to the UN:
With the sudden death in Congo of Vladimir Fabry UN has lost a distinguished and devoted son. Until his recently acquired US citizenship he had no country but UN to which he gave that same fierce loyalty with which he had served his own land. He was a sagacious lawyer, a skillful negotiator and a indefatigable worker for whom time did not exist. There were many Fabrys. The scholar and man of affairs who in his twenties had managed a huge industrial combine. The fighter whose activities sent him to exile. The mountaineer, skier, gourmet and music lover who was fluent in nine or ten languages and had knowledge of as many countries. He was an epitome of European culture.
We in the UNEF will remember Vlad not only for the work he did here but for his personal quirks. His hatred of the sea which did not prevent daily voyages on an air mattress. His pull ups on door lintels to tone the Mountaineer’s arm muscles and controlled skidding on sand to remind him of skiing. His undisguised joy in good food, good wine and good conversation, all of which he delighted to provide. No matter how busy, he could always find time to advise and aid anybody, no matter how humble, who had any problem. He was unassuming, courteous, exquisitely polite and we will never forget him.