15 NOVEMBER 2011


When we first heard that our former colleague Joe Sills was ill, we were sure he'd recover. A Spokesman for a General Assembly President, then Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General, then Director of U.N.I.C. Washington D.C., soft-spoken and solidly loyal Joe always managed a comeback. A touch of a ready smile, sincere scrutiny to pressing issues and a swift grasp of what was at stake kept him going. The Southern charm of a gentleman from Memphis, Tennessee may have been misinterpreted by some as a sign of weakness. The rest of us knew better. Joe was a perfect match in any decent argument, the right ally to have on your side, and wrong adversary to unduly antagonize. He knew Washington, D.C. very well, but -- unlike some opportunists -- never bragged about his connections there. He was a loyal American who knew that the U.S. Constitution and the U.N. Charter were based on the same principles of freedom, peace and human dignity for all.

Joe Sills joined the U.N. Secretariat as a Spokesman for another decent and pleasant friend: Ismat Kittani. The Iraqi Kurd invoked his sense of humour when he won the Presidency of the General Assembly by one vote. He thanked the meeting for its "overwhelming" support. Joe's impressive performance propelled him to a D-1 post at the Department of Public Information where he was promoted to Director of Press and Publications at the D-2 level. With the election of Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali as Secretary General, Joe doubled as his Spokesman as Ahmad Fawzi was brought in as Deputy Spokesman. Juan Carlos Brandt was the third partner in that effective triangle.

When it looked like a better U.N. effort was required in Washington, Joe readily agreed to go as Director of the U.N. Information Centre there. In a sign of respect and special appreciation, the announcement was made at a press gathering by the head of DPI, Samir Sanbar, who recalled a reaction by Richard Roth of CNN: "Say it ain't so, Joe."

Regrettably, the incoming team of Kofi Annan did not feel strongly that Joe's valuable services could be extended beyond retirement age, even for several token months as was the obvious case of Annan's Spokesman and compatriot Fred Eckhart.

After retirement in Tennessee, Joe kept in touch with his former colleagues and was active with several non-governmental organizations. He was a regular reader of unforum, often emailing his thoughtful remarks. His visits to New York were joyful occasions for all of us to get together for a drink or two -- well, perhaps three. His unique sense of humour and personal style of sincere friendship inspired us to look forward to his next New York round. His loyalty to U.N. objectives, like his devotion to his own country, the United States of America, remained unflinching. As we grieve his passing away, we are somewhat consoled by the great services he rendered to both.

Joe Sills will be sorely missed. May his soul rest in peace.