Diplomat killed in Afghanistan 'had a great worldview'

As strangers lined up for white ribbons and American flags to show their support, family and friends of Anne Smedinghoff mourned the loss of a young diplomat who was determined to see the world — and possibly beyond.

Her brother, Mark, recalled Monday talking to her after the U.S. landed a space probe on Mars last August and how excited she was about space travel.

"She half-jokingly, half-seriously said she wanted to be the first space ambassador and work on intergalactic (instead of international) relations," Mark Smedinghoff wrote in an email.

Anne Smedinghoff, 25, of River Forest, was killed Saturday with four other Americans while delivering textbooks to children at a new school in Afghanistan. She and the other victims were traveling in a convoy of vehicles when a bomb set off by the Taliban exploded, according to the State Department.

Her brother and sister, Mark and Regina Smedinghoff, said her interest in space was evident ever since she saw the movie "Apollo 13." Her first email address in middle school had the term "astro" in it, they recalled.

By her senior year at Fenwick High School, where she was a National Merit Scholar, Smedinghoff's career plans had shifted slightly. She was president of the International Relations Club and planned to pursue a career in foreign affairs.

Counselors were so impressed by her drive that they mentioned her specific goals in college recommendation letters, said Thomas Egan, her senior-year counselor.

"It was a rarity to find that in a younger person," Egan said. "She had a great worldview of how she could make things better."

Risks come with serving as a U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, but Anne Smedinghoff hardly dwelled on them, her colleagues said Monday.

As an assistant press information officer, Smedinghoff spent most of her time working on public diplomacy initiatives between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Often she reached out to both the international and Afghan media to cover stories that showed locals a different side of America that they might not have known.

Last year during a Muslim holiday that celebrates giving and sharing, Smedinghoff appeared on one of the most-watched Afghanistan TV stations to talk about the similarities between that special day and Thanksgiving.

Both give thanks for life's blessings, and Smedinghoff discussed how she and her family celebrated back at home, said Solmaz Sharifi, an assistant information officer who met Smedinghoff while they were training together before their assignment in Kabul.

"That's something that's never been done before," Sharifi said. "You never have an American on (Afghan) TV building those bridges and showing that Americans and Afghans aren't that different."

A memorial Mass scheduled to be celebrated at 8:50 a.m. Tuesday at Fenwick in Oak Park will be open to the student body and the public.

"She represents the best of what we strive to do here," said Richard Borsch, associate principal for student services. "Kids should see that."

jmdelgado@tribune.com

vortiz@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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