I had the privilege of knowing Kofi Annan for more than twenty years, first as friend and colleague, then as his assistant secretary-general when he was named Secretary-General. He was one of the most gifted men I have ever known. He had a deep intelligence and sense of history, a wide range of interests, and a quiet charisma that earned him respect and admiration. He had a natural dignity, but was never overbearing. Rather, there was a humility, an ability to listen and bear witness, and a deep compassion for those who suffered. Annan also had a great sense of humor. He loved a good story or joke and had an infectious laugh. Over the years of working in several different UN roles, he developed an insider's knowledge of the United Nations, its wide-ranging functions, its political constraints, its potential, and its limits. He was an effective diplomat, shrewd negotiator and strategist, and leader of a large and complex bureaucracy.
Secretary-General Annan appointed an outstanding leadership team, meeting weekly as if a cabinet, with a more open flow of communication among departments. He also appointed some outstanding women to senior posts, a first in UN history--Deputy Secretary-General, High Commissioner for Human Rights, High Commissioner for Refugees, and Under Secretary-General for Management, among others.
Annan's discipline for work was prodigious. Every night, he would take home a stack of memos. In the morning those would be returned with comments, instructions, follow-up notes, and, very occasionally, "Good work." He was famous for his thoughtful handwritten notes of thanks or condolence. His travel demands were daunting, and his workload went with him wherever he was.
He understood the limits of the UN and that its resources, both human and financial, were unable to meet the demands. With that perspective, he was committed to partnerships--reaching out to the academic world, to the corporate sector, to health experts, to civil society such as Rotary International, to foundations, and, of course, to the 4,000 nongovernmental organizations accredited to the UN. Their commitments, communication skills, and contributions...