Remembering Ron Pump (1942-2010)
By John Duke Anthony
December 6, 2010
The sad news of Ron Pump's sudden passing in Riyadh this past week reached me while in Muscat, Oman, and I write the following remembrance of him from Abu Dhabi.
I first met Ron in the mid-1980s. He was then a Washington, D.C.-based government relations representative for AT&T. In that capacity, he became by degrees exceptionally interested in the Arab world not only from a business perspective but also in terms of its people and their cultures. Proof of the extent to which he found the latter endlessly fascinating was that even before he left AT&T's Washington office, he tried hard but unsuccessfully to obtain a meaningful position in Palestine. Undaunted and as determined as before, he subsequently landed in Egypt, where he spent several years before relocating to Saudi Arabia, where he was Vice-President of the American Business Group of Riyadh at the time of his passing a few days ago.
Before doing so, Ron traveled a parallel route to achieve his abiding objective of never ceasing to increase his knowledgeable and understanding of the region. To that end, he early on became one of the six founding American business members of the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee, a nonprofit and nongovernmental association focused on the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Established in 1986 by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, which the corporate members elected to serve as their secretariat, the Committee played a major public affairs educational role in the 1980s and 1990s. It did so in collaboration with the American and Arab public as well as private sectors.
Both groups shared an interest in bringing the GCC and American peoples closer together. The means upon which they agreed to do so were through increased trade, investment, and the establishment of mutually beneficial joint commercial ventures in addition to supporting GCC-U.S. educational and cultural activities. Proof of their success and much to the credit of Ron's leadership was that the U.S. Department of State on its own initiative reached out to the Committee. It did so with a view to persuading the Committee to assist it by participating in various joint GCC-U.S. business efforts and meetings.
The meetings, in which Ron was always an active participant, were convened biannually. The venues for these gatherings varied from one meeting to the next, being held one year in the United States and two years later in one of the GCC countries. The purpose of the meetings was in keeping with Ron's and the other Committee members' as well as the Department of State's and the U.S. Department of Commerce's objectives: to focus on and promote the strengthening and expansion of the private sector dynamics between the American and GCC peoples.
By design, in which Ron had played a formative role, the Committee's initial members each represented a different niche in the international sector of American corporate interests in the six-state region comprised of the GCC countries. In this light, it was to Ron's credit and no small achievement that AT&T selected him to represent not just the company and the broader American telecommunications industry's interests in the Committee's activities. It also supported his election to the position of Committee Vice-President, which he held on the members' behalf as well as the secretariat -- first, in the United States and then later in Riyadh where the GCC's Secretariat is located.
Within two years of the Committee's establishment, Ron and the other five corporate sector representatives decided to broaden the nature and orientation of the organization's membership. In so doing, the numbers swelled to more than two dozen members, all of them among the list of America's Fortune 100 Companies. Each one shared with the others a common interest. All were focused on wanting to improve their corporation's and America's overall interest, investment, and other business involvement in the GCC region. To these ends, in the course of any given year Ron was consistently the core corporate activist who successfully persuaded the Committee to increase the number of its public affairs activities.
In so doing, Ron's focus remained strategic and constant throughout. He helped ensure that all of the Committee's programs and activities were designed to educate the American public about the GCC and its member countries. In the process, he and the other Committee members insisted on the importance of improving the relationships between the United States and the GCC countries. never at a lost for explaining why, Ron and the other members would emphasize that the GCC countries were situated in the midst of the world's most strategically vital region, their citizens were predisposed to doing business with American companies, and they happened to possess a finite and depleting energy resource that was undeniably essential to global economic growth and the material well being of billions. As testimony to his and his colleagues' success, the Committee increased the nature and number of its annual educational outreach efforts to include more than two dozen activities annually.
In listing such accomplishments, it is easy to overlook the complexities of the international context in which Ron and his fellow Committee members worked simultaneously to advance the interests of their companies and the national security and geopolitical interests and key foreign policy objectives of the United States.
Doing so proved to be a continuing challenge in both instances. Not least among the reasons at the time was that the GCC region and the Committee's concerns and goals were in many instances not only intricately connected. They also happened to be situated in an area adjacent to a major international war zone from 1980 to 1988 between Iran and Iraq. Throughout that period, an abiding concern of the Committee members, their corporate counterparts, and the American and GCC governments was that the war continuously threatened to spread to one or more of the GCC countries and on several occasions came close to doing so.
In order to remain on top of his game with regard to understanding and dealing as effectively as possible with corporate and other actors in Arabia and the Persian Gulf region as a whole in the midst of this conflict, Ron was indefatigable. More than any other Committee member, he was forever at the forefront in trying to prod the members to become more active in meeting with the ambassadors and other diplomats in the GCC countries' embassies in the nation's capital and in briefing Members of Congress and their staff tasked with enacting legislative measure to protect American interests in the GCC region.
In addition, it was typical of Ron that, more than any of the other Committee members, he was uncertain whether the perspectives to which he had regular access in Washington were sufficiently accurate or adequate. Accordingly, he insisted more than once on traveling to the region with other Committee members and me to meet and discuss issues firsthand with America's military commanders and ambassadors as well as numerous leaders among the GCC states themselves.
Without a doubt, Ron's grasp of the intricacies of the GCC countries' decision making and policymaking procedures served his company and American interests well. For example, within days of the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion and occupation in late February 1991, he joined other Americans and me in being among the first American civilians allowed to witness the nature and extent of the destruction that had been inflicted upon the country. At that time, he persuaded me to accompany him late at night on a side visit away from the others to show me what was nothing less than an astounding but little known achievement in which he had had a part in making it happen. He led me to a remote site on the edge of the desert to show me the equipment that he and his AT&T colleagues in miraculously short order had succeeded in putting into place less than 72 hours after Kuwait's liberation that had restored the country's international telecommunications interconnectivity.
In Oman, where he was able to meet with some of the country's most prominent business leaders, he arranged on the weekends to join others and me in visiting some of the sultanate's numerous historical forts of a bygone era. And in Abu Dhabi, he plunged into discussions and debates with the members of that emirate's chamber of commerce that left everyone on both sides wondering where he got all of his energy. In this way and in numerous other settings, Ron, like few other corporate representatives among those that were his colleagues, was the Committee's single most active member in terms of joining others and me in meetings with GCC Secretariat officials, GCC country leaders, and private sector corporate representatives in Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Yemen.
But to suggest that Ron's most enduring and endearing attribute was his unquenchable quest to pursue his company's business opportunities and at the same time, to the extent possible, experience firsthand the various dynamics integral to Arab and Islamic culture in whatever Arab country he happened to be as much as he could would be misleading. The reason is that there was yet another side to him that made him exceptionally unique and distinct among his fellow corporate representatives. This additional side to Ron was manifested in his abiding personal interest in and dedication to mentoring America's emerging Arabists of tomorrow.
To this end, Ron took at least five former National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations employees and/or former university students of mine under his wing in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Of the five, none has yet reached the age of thirty. One of them called me in Muscat a few days ago almost in tears to inform me of Ron's passing. Two others who reached me via e-mail in Abu Dhabi were no different. Their emotionally fond memories of Ron as their mentor were embedded in every sentence they wrote.
When a young person prematurely loses someone who has gone out of their way to teach them some of the more important lessons of life and, in the process, provide them a role model, such deeply felt reactions of emotional grief and pain are only natural. They are but aspects of life as they should be. Certainly in this case there is no question of what has been lost.
Ron's corporate colleagues, his fellow patrons of the arts and those who searched with him endlessly for opportunities that would enable young people in whom he saw talent and potential a chance to grow personally and professionally, and his friends at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations whose programs and activities he never ceased to support are the poorer for Ron's untimely passing. But at the same time they are the richer as well for they are but a few among the many who came to know and love Ron Pump and who will miss this one-of-a kind man whose big heart contained within it an uncommon generosity of spirit, a boundless zest for life, and an abiding commitment to helping others.
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