Friday, September 10, 2010
Only in Samoa would you receive, via a text message, an invitation to dine with an ambassador. But that’s how it happened. I had been invited to dinner with the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. The dinner was scheduled for Monday night and it meant me having to rearrange my schedule, but when the Ambassador invites, I accept.
His name is David Huebner. I had seen him twice before—once back in December, and more recently in May. However, this gathering seemed as if it was going to be a closer encounter and a “get to know you” type of event. There were about 10 of us who were meeting with him. We were asked to be at the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. We arrived a few minutes early. The restaurant was outside of town and was a deserted place, so it looked as though we were going to have the place to ourselves. Shortly after 6:30, Ambassador Huebner arrived. Walking into the room by himself, I was surprised it was going to be just us, but very pleased at the same time.
He took a moment to walk around the table and shake each of our hands as we introduced ourselves. He was surprised we hadn’t ordered any drinks yet, although we were thinking it was proper etiquette to wait for him to arrive. The ambassador asked Joey, from group 81, to move to the left so that he could be seated at the center of the rectangular table—more conducive for conversation. We spent a few minutes breaking the ice before he decided to order some appetizers.
The evening got started by us finding out that the ambassador was going to be one of the judges for the Miss Samoa Pageant held this week. He told us he had just gone through a day of training on how to be an effective judge. We all laughed. Of all the things he’s required to do as ambassador, I’m not sure if he ever thought that judging a national pageant was going to be one of them.
Soon he picked up his drink and moved down to the head of the table to visit with those of us who had an end seat. He sat between me and Jim from group 80. I asked him how New Zealand was recovering after the recent 7.4 earthquake which struck Christchurch. He explained some of the damage to us, and said that the Embassy had started contacting all the U.S. citizens living in Christchurch within minutes of the quake.
With me being a fan of politics, both domestic and international, I wanted to pick his brain for some of his thoughts. I asked him how Hillary Clinton was doing as Secretary of State. He said that Mrs. Clinton—as I should have referred to her as—was a real “team player.” The ambassador explained that although she is head of the State Department, she is not his boss, but rather President Obama. This lead to another interesting fact. Because the ambassador is the official representative of the United States, appointed by the President himself, the ambassador holds the same status as a Four Star General within the country/countries he represents. Ambassador Huebner said that he has been saluted before by Three Star Generals visiting New Zealand.
Visiting with the ambassador, I quickly realized his level of intellect and knowledge of world events. This is a man who recently ran an international law firm with thousands of employees. He has lived in cities around the world, including London and Shanghai. Despite all of his accomplishments, he was a down-to-earth person with an occasional joke or one liner. His story about the interview process to become the ambassador left us all scratching our heads in amazement of that feat alone. 19 people working full time for 45 days to dig into his past and make sure he was a worthy appointee for President Obama. He said that there are so many positions to fill by the President, that a President can sometimes leave office after four years not having filled all the spots!
He continued to move around the table throughout the night and take time to visit with all of the volunteers. The mood was very relaxed and I always felt as though he was giving his full attention to us. A person in his position could very easily have several other things running through his mind, yet he never seemed distracted by anything else. There were a few volunteers from group 81 at dinner who were getting ready to attend their Close of Service conference later in the week. They had been preparing resumes for the conference and getting ready to return the U.S. in December in search of a job. The ambassador started giving advice on a good resume which made all of us lean in to listen more closely. He said typos are the big thing that turns him off when looking at a resume or cover letter. If a person didn’t have time to correct spelling in a resume, he said, how would they effectively operate as a lawyer?
I was very impressed by his commitment to working with youth. He said he enjoys teaching some classes a couple times a week at a school in New Zealand. It has been a priority for him to go outside of the office and meet with children. The ambassador is fully aware that he could be dinning with heads of state and other important figures, yet he said it is important to invest in the youth because one day they will remember that someone cared enough to invest in their futures.
As the evening ended, he wished us all well and gave us his business card. We took a group photo and said our goodbyes. I was very impressed by his desire to meet with us and the way in which he chose to do it. He could have invited us to a conference table, but instead he invited us to a dinner table. He didn’t need to meet with us at all, but he felt it was important and worth while. A big thank you to the ambassador for his acknowledgement of our work here in Samoa, and for his work as well.