Hannes Richter

Thomas Klestil, A Tribute

Hannes Richter
Thomas Klestil

The death of Austrian Federal President Thomas Klestil on July 6, 2004 was unexpected. He died in office, two days before the end of his second, six-year term. Voices worldwide have expressed their grief over the loss of a statesman with extraordinary capabilities as a mediator. Dr. Klestil was held in high esteem for his role as an advocate and supporter of European unity and for his special commitment to the integration of Eastern European states into the European Union.

During his term in office Dr. Klestil pursued his goal of being ‘someone who unites and not divides.’ He made 130 state visits to foreign countries - more than any other Austrian Federal President. Some of these visits were considered ground-breaking. He was, for example, the first Austrian Federal President to visit Israel and openly express sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust. In the words of Israeli President, Moshe Katzav, "the legacy of brotherhood and reconciliation that President Klestil left behind might be carried on in Austria and the rest of the world." U.S. President George W. Bush said: "As a man dedicated to freedom and human dignity, and as president, he was a committed and eloquent advocate of these values."

Dr. Klestil embraced openness with all groups within Austria’s population. He was candid about his past life - a man from modest beginnings, son of a streetcar operator who became Federal President. On his seventieth birthday, he spoke proudly of the possibilities that Austria offered to all of its citizens.

Thomas Klestil was born in Vienna in 1932. He obtained a Ph.D. from the College of World Trade in 1957. In 1959 he was assigned to the OEEC (later OECD). From 1962 to 1966 he served as Attaché at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. After returning to Vienna in 1966, he joined the staff of Austrian Federal Chancellor Dr. Josef Klaus. In 1969 he was responsible for establishing the Austrian Consulate General in Los Angeles. From 1974 on Dr. Klestil played a key role in bringing important UN organizations to Vienna. After serving as Ambassador to the United Nations in New York in 1978, he was Ambassador to the United States for five years from 1982 on. Of the thirty-five years in his diplomatic career, eighteen were spent in the United States. This long period of diplomatic service abroad greatly influenced his later presidential career as Austrian Federal President.

Dr. Klestil is survived by his wife, Margot Klestil-Löffler, a diplomat, by three children and several grandchildren.