Ten years later, the Comox Valley’s Chris Klein-Beekman is remembered for his caring personality and his dedication to help others.
Klein-Beekman was serving as UNICEF program co-ordinator in Iraq in August 2003 when he was killed by a bomb explosion at UN headquarters in Baghdad. Monday, Aug. 19 marked the 10-year anniversary of his death at 32 years of age.
“He really made an impression on so many people,” Klein-Beekman’s friend and co-worker Geoffrey Keele said Tuesday. “I’ve been in contact with a lot of the Iraqis that we used to work with over the years, including yesterday on the 10th anniversary, and all of their thoughts are still with Chris — he really left an impression.”
Klein-Beekman grew up in the Valley before his post-secondary studies at the University of Victoria and University of Amsterdam. He joined the Department of Humanitarian Affairs at the UN in Geneva in 1995 and then joined UNICEF in 1997.
He became program co-ordinator in Baghdad, Iraq in May, 2002, and Keele says — like most people who met Klein-Beekman — they became fast friends after they met in Iraq.
“Chris was just a really wonderful guy,” recalls Keele, pausing to search for words. “Everybody who worked with Chris adored Chris. He really had an impact on all the people in our office and Iraq, Iraqis and international staff alike.
“He treated everybody the same, whether they were the head of the office or the lady who brought you the coffee, everybody knew Chris and Chris always had a smile for everyone and something nice to say. He really made everybody feel like they were a part of the team.”
Keele notes Klein-Beekman oversaw programs designed to improve the lives of children, like child protection, health, education, and water and sanitation programs.
“Twelve years of sanctions had left children in a very difficult situation; mortality rates were high, there was a lot of malnutrition, water infrastructure, health infrastructure had deteriorated terribly,” continues Keele. “His job was really to try and work with a government, Saddam Hussein’s government, to try and rebuild all of that infrastructure at a time when there wasn’t much money coming into the country.”
Keele adds Klein-Beekman had to be creative in finding ways to improve the lives of Iraqi children, like teaching locals how to monitor children’s weight and growth so kids suffering from malnutrition could be identified earlier.
Klein-Beekman was one of the first UN staff who went back to Baghdad after it was bombed in 2003, according to Keele.
Keele recalls Klein-Beekman told him all about his life growing up in the Comox Valley, noting “he obviously loved it,” and he came back regularly to visit his family.
Klein-Beekman was married to a woman he met while serving in Ethiopia, Nina Kebede, who came to the Comox Valley from Ethiopia for Klein-Beekman’s funeral.
Keele says the loss of Klein-Beekman was a loss for many children in the world.
“He was so good at his job, and so committed and so dynamic, that there are children in countries all over the world where he would have made such a difference, he would have made such a contribution,” says Keele. “And the fact that he died in that bombing means that the contribution he would have made was lost — and that’s a big tragedy.”