It was just a year ago that Sean Smith's three-year stint at the American consulate in Montreal ended and he was off to new diplomatic postings. The most recent landed him in Libya, where a rocket-propelled grenade claimed his life this week along with those of three other U.S. embassy staffers.
The news that the well-liked father of two was among those killed in the mob attack in Benghazi on Tuesday left the people he worked with in Canada shattered. About 60 of them gathered at the consulate on Wednesday afternoon to remember the man who had been a member of their close-knit diplomatic team.
U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson, who was already in Montreal to attend an international conference on civil aviation, left the meeting to be with his staff.
Mr. Jacobson told The Globe and Mail as he headed back to Ottawa that he had met both Mr. Smith and Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was also killed in the attack. Although he did not know either man well, he said a loss like this is extremely difficult for him and the people under him.
"There was not a dry eye in the house, including mine," Mr. Jacobson said. "I heard people talk about issues he had had with his children's illnesses, how he loved food and loved the food in Montreal, how he was a dedicated computer gamer, how much he loved his time in Montreal. And what it reminded me of is that these are people. These are people with hopes and dreams and hobbies and families. And it makes what is a political tragedy into what is such a personal tragedy."
Most of the people, both Canadians and Americans, who work at the consulate today knew Mr. Smith very well, he said. Some maintained regular contact with him after he left. "It's a family," Mr. Jacobson said. "That is true in every embassy and consulate around the world, even in a place like Canada where we fit in so well. There is a camaraderie among the people who work together in these places and there is a loss that they all shared."
Mr. Smith was a foreign service information management officer – a computer guy. The assignment in Libya was supposed to have been temporary. His death underscores the risky nature of of any foreign service posting, the ambassador said.
Mr. Jacobson is not a career diplomat. But in the three years that he has been the ambassador to Canada, he said he has learned that people like Mr. Smith who work in American embassies around the world do so to improve the lives of U.S. citizens and the people of their host countries.
"Being a foreign service officer is a dangerous profession and people do it because of their belief in public service, and we should all very very thankful to them for what they do," Mr. Jacobson said. "I get a lot of complaints from time to time from people about security at our embassy, and security at our consulates, and it's events like this that remind all of us that we need to be careful."
But one of the things that has made a situation like this more bearable, the ambassador said, has been the outpouring of support and kindness from Canadians.
"From high government officials, from representatives of all the political parties, to friends and people on the street, and people that I have run into here today," he said, "in very difficult circumstances like this, and on very difficult days, it reminds you how important it is to have friends."