Rest In Peace, My Dear Mentor: Helmut Schmidt

File - (AP)  Helmut Schmidt - German Chancellor. (AP-Photo) 1977
File - (AP) Helmut Schmidt - German Chancellor. (AP-Photo) 1977

Of all the leaders I have met in my lifetime, Helmut Schmidt was the most political of the intellectuals, and the most intellectual of the politicians. Throughout his long and extraordinary career, he united politics with thought, action with reflection. He was a statesman made to order for his era, for the world, for the German people: a man who distinguished himself by, among many other things, always saying what he thought, and by his willingness to review his positions in the best interests of his people. He was a modern social democrat and a Chancellor who governed during one of the most tumultuous periods of the 1970s. God also gave Helmut Schmidt the most valuable gift of all: the gift of time. During his 96 years, he was able to create great projects, but also watch them grow and prosper.

I met Schmidt in 1990, when I was invited to participate in the InterAction Council, a club of former heads of state. Schmidt was at the helm of the organization, and I had the opportunity to get to know him well and begin a friendship that grew over time. I greatly admired his achievements and studied his work. I never ceased to be astonished by the breadth of his knowledge of economics, philosophy, history and literature, and by his leadership and his view of the world. I sought his counsel many times. One of my most vivid memories of him was when, in 2003, I asked him what he thought about my idea of returning to national politics in order to run once more for the Presidency of Costa Rica. In his unequivocal way, he responded: "Only an idiot would do such a thing."

I have many fond memories of our conversations. Once, for example, he told me that what had most surprised him about Leonid Brezhnev was his total ignorance of Russian literature: "I think he had never even read Dostoyevsky." The annual meetings of the InterAction Council began with a tour d'horizon during which he spoke to us of the United States, Europe, China, India, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. He would always tell me, "I won't refer to Latin America because I don't know anything about it and, besides, nothing interesting happens there. You and Miguel [de la Madrid] will give us a report on your region." The former Chancellor was a fervent admirer of China's rapid economic development. When I told him I hadn't been there in many years, he responded: "Unforgiveable. You must go as soon as possible, Oscar. Half of Germany's cranes are in Shanghai." His recommendation was followed like an order.

The last time I saw Helmut Schmidt was when we attended a meeting of the InterAction Council in May 2012 in Tianjin, China. We paid homage to him for his outstanding and tireless labor for the organization as its Honorary President. My colleagues, fellow former heads of state, did me the honor of asking me to deliver the remarks honoring Schmidt on their behalf, and part of what I said was this:

"In 'Men and Powers,' Helmut Schmidt wrote: 'According to a widespread public illusion, an ideal statesman is someone who can develop a stirring vision of the future; but at the same time he is held responsible for turning this vision into reality.' He went on to say that while we expect too much from our leaders, in 1962, it appeared that someone had emerged who fulfilled all of these unrealistic hopes and dreams. For him, that man was the young U.S. President, John F. Kennedy. For me, that man is Helmut Schmidt.

Without any doubt, one of the stars of our lifetime, whose light of wisdom and leadership has illuminated the path of millions, is with us here today. Thank you, Helmut -- for being a teacher, a mentor, and a source of inspiration, to many leaders all over the world, as well as to this humble servant from Latin America."

I will miss the wisdom that emanated from his eyes. I will miss the example he set for all those of us who, in one way or another, chose the path of politics. And I will miss the relationship we shared over many decades. Today I say goodbye in the name of thousands and thousands of men and women who shared in the life of this remarkable being, a leader who transformed the history of Germany forever. Helmut Schmidt united individuals into a single band of brothers and sisters. Today, in our midst, his stubborn flame goes out. Those who for so many years received its light and warmth will carry his light to all the corners of our Earth, so that he might live forever among us.

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