Salzburg Global Mourns Loss of Friend and Colleague, Edward Mortimer

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Salzburg Global Mourns Loss of Friend and Colleague, Edward Mortimer

Senior Program Advisor and former Senior Vice President & Chief Program Officer dies, age 77

Jun 22, 2021

Edward Mortimer CMG, Senior Program Advisor and former Senior Vice President & Chief Program Officer of Salzburg Global Seminar has died, age 77.

The acclaimed journalist, writer, international civil servant, and humanitarian suffered a pulmonary embolism following complications from cancer treatment.

A man of multiple talents and careers, motivated by a strong passion for human rights and possessed with a boundless commitment to causes that made him ill-suited to retirement, Edward remained fully engaged and committed to Salzburg Global Seminar, as well as many other organizations and causes, until his sudden passing on Friday, June 19, 2021. His enormous contributions to Salzburg Global Seminar over the past three decades will be sorely missed.  
 

Edward at the 2019 Palliser Lecture

Towering Intellect

Edward began his lengthy professional life as a journalist for first The Times of London (1968-1987) and later The Financial Times (1987-1998) before becoming chief speech writer and director of communications for the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan from 1998 to 2006. His deep personal commitment to human rights and the international duty to protect, as well as his unfailing belief in the fundamental dignity of all people, had a profound impact on the UN and on Kofi Annan’s leadership. His books included Faith and Power: the Politics of Islam (1982); and The World That FDR Built (1989), based on his 1987 Channel 4 TV series “Roosevelt’s Children”. He also served as a fellow and faculty at several institutions, including not only Salzburg Global Seminar but also the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as on the governing bodies of several non-governmental organizations, including Chatham House, the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, and Minority Rights Group International, and as chair of Salzburg Global’s sister organization in London, 21st Century Trust.

When he was appointed in 2007 as Senior Vice President of Salzburg Global Seminar and the first person to hold the post of Chief Program Officer, he brought with him not only his decades of experience, vast network of contacts, and intellectual prowess – but also his boundless curiosity, generous spirit, and a desire to bring together people rarely in the same room.

“Edward was a towering intellect, journalist, international figure, and a kind and generous colleague,” says Salzburg Global President and CEO, Stephen Salyer, who appointed Edward in 2007. “His principles were resolute, his networks vast, his words respected by all who heard his voice and followed his writing.”
 

 

Recognition for the power of those words came in part through UK’s 2010 New Years Honours list, when Edward became a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) for his services to international communications and journalism.

Through his connections in academia, journalism and the United Nations, Edward ensured that Salzburg Global’s programs were filled with the brightest minds and most promising future leaders. He nurtured and supported Salzburg Global Fellows, and he expanded Salzburg Global’s networks, focusing on the issues that he cared so deeply about that informed his life work.

At the outset of the new Obama Administration in 2008, he assembled representatives from across the world to “give advice to the new US Administration” – then followed a year later in the Financial Times with a “scorecard” on how the administration had performed, including a series of recommendations that were presented on Capitol Hill. 
 

Edward (center) with Fellows of the program "'The United States in the World: New Strategies of Engagement" in 2008

Humanitarian Commitment

While lofty of height and intellect, Edward cared deeply about people and ideas. He possessed an uncanny ability to never make anyone else feel small or lesser, leveling hierarchies, encouraging inclusion and diversity of thought, and fostering dialogue and public exchange, even on controversial topics, from which he never shied. Whether moderating panels of senior diplomats and career policymakers, such as at the program A “Green Revolution” in Africa: What Framework for Success?, which featured Annan, or speaking with young aspiring journalists at the Salzburg Academy for Media and Global Change, Edward was renowned for his ability to listen deeply, synthesize information quickly, and for his capacity to thoughtfully explain complex matters with a mix of sharpness, humility, and humor. 

“He was always sharp, curious, and probing in his intellect, and he was uncompromising in his belief that the basic, fundamental rights all people need to be protected above all else. He had the journalist’s ability to ask the most challenging of questions when the moment demanded, and the diplomat’s ability to treat everyone with honor and respect in all of the moments in between. Above all, however, he was caring. He cared deeply about people and ideas, and he was never shy to show his care for either,” reflects Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Ben Glahn, who served as Deputy Chief Program Officer under Edward and credits Edward’s mentorship for his own career’s trajectory. 

Early is his tenure at Salzburg Global Seminar, and building on his work at the UN and deep humanitarian commitment to the Right to Protect, Edward recognized that a global program focused on Holocaust Education could serve an important role in prevention of future atrocities. Working with the Austrian government, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (today the International Holocaust Remembrance Association), Edward worked tirelessly to launch a new Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention program at Salzburg Global Seminar in 2010 and to ensure that Salzburg Global’s role in the 2000 Washington Agreement could be fulfilled.  

More than a decade later, the Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention program continues to promote peace, reconciliation, and pluralist societies by advancing structured dialogue, research, knowledge-sharing and cross-border projects and engaging educators, practitioners and museum curators from over 50 countries, many with recent experience of mass violence or rising extremism.
 

Edward with Tim Ryback and Salzburg Global Fellow Glen Timmermans at the 2014 Holocaust Education program

Edward was also the leading proponent of the enduring partnership between Salzburg Global Seminar and our British sister organization, the 21st Century Trust, which was established in 2007. Himself a Fellow of the Trust since 1992 and prompted by Sir Michael Palliser, a board member of both institutions, Edward helped bring together Trust’s executive director John Lotherington, its Board Chair Chris Patten, and Salzburg Seminar President Stephen Salyer to embrace synergies between the two organizations and a significant opportunity to help advance their missions of shaping a better world through strategic convening and dialogue through partnership.

Following his retirement as Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer at Salzburg Global, Edward took on the role of Chair of the Trust in 2012. 

“Edward had a profound belief in public reasoning,” observes John Lotherington, “and Trust events, just as at Salzburg, are where complex problems and diverse viewpoints can be creatively explored leading to better understanding and better action in the world. Edward was both a compelling speaker and a profound listener – he set a tone in which people’s thinking and mission could flourish.”

It was not only Salzburg Global’s formal programming that benefited from Edward’s partnership building; he also fostered connections with the Salzburger Festspiele and the Salzburg State Theater. These partnerships saw Schloss Leopoldskron stage excerpts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, screen Max Reinhardt’s movie adaptation of the Shakespearean play, and house the Writers in Residence program, which brought the likes of Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and British playwright Tom Stoppard to Salzburg. It also led to the establishment of an enduring partnership with the Salzburg State Theatre, which continues to host performance of “Shakespeare in the Park” every summer in the 17-hectare park at Schloss Leopoldskron. 

Edward and John Lotherington (right) at the 2019 Palliser Lecture, co-organized by Salzburg Global Seminar and the 21st Century Trust

Continued Engagement

Stepping down from his role as Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer in 2011, Edward remained engaged in the organization for a further decade, serving as a Senior Program Advisor. 

In addition to serving as chair and faculty on programs covering geopolitics and Holocaust education, in 2014, he delivered the inaugural Palliser Lecture – a now-annual event held by Salzburg Global in partnership with the 21st Century Trust – on “Europe’s Future: 1814, 1914 – Or Something Completely Different?” where he warned a rapt audience the UK House of Lords that “the threat hanging over humanity in the 21st century which could cause destruction, suffering and conflict on a scale comparable to that of the great war: climate change.” 

In 2015, he helped bring three members of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea – Michael Kirby, Sonja Biserko and Marzuki Darusman – to Salzburg for the program International Responses to Crimes Against Humanity: The Challenge of North Korea, which resulted in the Salzburg Statement on the Human Rights Situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

This continued engagement and fostering of connections for the greater good was typical of Edward. Upon his graduation from Oxford, he was awarded the coveted fellowship at All Souls, where he returned some decades later to lead a vigorous program of intellectual engagement around vital issues involving the fellows and faculty of the college, as well as distinguished guests from across the world, for many years. He also continued his career as a journalist and academic, serving as a special rapporteur for the United Nations and Council of Europe and focusing on issues such as international migration, the rights of minorities, and freedom and diversity.
 

Edward with the program advisory committee of the 2008 program "A ;Green Revolution' in Africa: What Framework for Success?"

It was at All Souls in 2018, where Edward yet again leveraged connections to launch another project addressing a pressing, if controversial issue: the Contested Histories in Public Spaces initiative established by the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), which itself grew out of Salzburg Global Seminar. 

The initiative was born over a lunch hosted by Edward at the college, recollects IHJR Director and former Salzburg Global Resident Director, Tim Ryback. 

The initiative seeks to provide decision-makers, policy planners, educators, and other stakeholders with a set of case studies, best practices and guidelines for addressing historical contestations in an effective and responsible manner. The landmark publication, Contested Histories in Public Spaces: Principles, Processes, Best Practices, was published in February 2021 as a partnership between the IHJR, Salzburg Global and the International Bar Association, and accompanied by a Designs on the Future webinar, Who Owns the Past?

A long-serving moderator of Salzburg Global Seminar programs – both as Chief Program Officer and earlier as a member of the faculty – Edward’s final programmatic role with Salzburg Global Seminar came in January 2021 when he delivered the closing remarks on another Designs on the Future webinar – Can Democracy Catch Up With Technology? In true Edward fashion, the program had featured a former UN colleague, Stephen Stedman who had served as a special advisor to Kofi Annan and was held in partnership with the 21st Century Trust, the board of which he chaired. 

He had been working on another program partnership with the Trust and Salzburg Global tentatively scheduled for October in the last week of his life – maintaining his dedicated connection to both organizations until the very end. 
 

Edward with his wife Wiz at a New Year's Eve Gala hosted at Schloss Leopoldskron

Salzburg Family

Under Edward’s leadership in Salzburg, he helped continue to nurture the sense of the “Salzburg family” among colleagues – bringing a sense of joy to the Schloss reinforcing Edward’s reputation for combing a sharpness intellect with humility, humor, and charm. He was readily assisted in this by his own family, most notably his wife Elizabeth “Wiz” Mortimer, who lived with him at Schloss Leopoldskron throughout his tenure and was a frequent companion on his return visits to Salzburg. His daughter Frances, also attended a Salzburg Global program in 2008 on Combatting Climate Change at Local and Regional Levels, while serving as the medical director for the Campaign for Greener Healthcare at Knowledge Into Action in Oxford. He is survived by Wiz, daughters Frances and Phoebe, sons Horatio and Matthew, and seven grandchildren.

Edward will be dearly missed by everyone in the Salzburg Global family, and he will be remembered by our Fellows and friends from all over the world whom he touched with his unique generosity and humanity. 

Tributes from many of them follow below: 

Tributes to Edward Mortimer

From Staff

“I remember vividly meeting Edward in the UN Delegates Lounge when I was recruiting him to become our head of program.  We had a ranging conversation about this career, the work of Salzburg Global, and the state of the world.  I knew instantly we had just the person for this newly-created position, and he seemed to know that it would be the perfect next act for him.

He was clear about his expectations: “I have been on the conference circuit as a columnist and much as I enjoy high level conversation, I’m looking for something more than that.”  We agreed that our shared goal would be to differentiate Salzburg Global from other think tanks and policy centers, emphasizing problem-solving and cultivation of the next generation of leaders.  With characteristic directness, Edward asked: “So what is your job and what would be mine?”

Because we had both spent many years working in media and journalism, I replied: “You will be the editor, I am the publisher.”  He found this clear and satisfying.  Soon thereafter, we received him in Salzburg and quickly came to agreement.   

Neither of us reckoned on the challenges for a small institution that the financial crisis presented.  But despite resource constraints, Edward moved Salzburg’s program forward with determination and creativity.  He drew on his vast range of friends and colleagues to define our programs and involved truly extraordinary people.

Classically schooled in Greek and Latin, there was nothing old-fashioned about Edward.  He wanted to engage at the cutting edge of change and pushed our program to a new level.  After returning to England to be closer to family, Edward never ended his service to Salzburg Global Seminar, nor his love affair with Schloss Leopoldskron.  He became Board Chair of our sister organization, the 21st Century Trust, and helped organize a range of joint initiatives tackling contested history and presenting an annual lecture to honor our former Board Vice Chairman Sir Michael Palliser, the agent of bringing the two organizations into close alignment.

Yes, a towering intellect, but very much a man of action, seeking to find ways forward in a difficult world.  We will miss so much his voice, counsel and example.”

Stephen Salyer, President, Salzburg Global Seminar


“We have lost a lodestar for our work at the 21st Century Trust. That description has cropped up in a number of tributes from Trust Fellows. Edward had a profound belief in public reasoning, and Trust events, just as at Salzburg, are where complex problems and diverse viewpoints can be creatively explored leading to better understanding and better action in the world. Edward was both a compelling speaker and a profound listener – he set a tone in which people’s thinking and mission could flourish. He used to say, with a twinkle in his eye, that when he had been asked why, given his scholarly interests, he hadn’t become an academic, he would respond: ‘On that I like to quote Marx: Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.’”

John Lotherington, Director, 21st Century Trust; Program Consultant, Salzburg Global Seminar


“Edward was one of a kind in so many ways. He was truly a man of the world, and he cared deeply about people - friends, colleagues, and strangers alike. He was generous in every way. Generous of intellect. Generous of spirit. And generous by disposition. At the same time, he was always sharp, curious, and probing in his intellect, and he was uncompromising in his belief that the basic, fundamental rights need to be protected above all else. He had the journalist’s ability to ask the most challenging of questions when the moment demanded, and the diplomat’s ability to treat everyone with honor and respect in all of the moments in between. Above all, however, he was caring. He cared deeply about people and ideas, and he was never shy to show his care for either. He was easy to admire and impossible to forget. He will be dearly missed by all of us who benefited from his friendship and wisdom, and he will be remembered by everyone he touched through his caring and kindness.”

Benjamin Glahn, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Salzburg Global Seminar


“Edward was a phenomenon! He was, as has so often been noted, a phenomenal intellect, of course, but also in so many other ways. For example, his ability to connect, link, and clearly explain complex and diffuse issues and ideas. Or his ability to welcome people from anywhere and everywhere and make them feel comfortable almost immediately. But one thing that epitomizes for me the ‘wonder’ of Edward was seeing him on the dance floor. The first time, it was so unexpected - this seemingly staid, intellectual, diplomatic British man became something more akin to someone you might glimpse on Soul Train or Top of the Pops. He danced with gusto! Whether alone or with his lovely wife, ‘whizzing’ Wiz across the floor, he was fully in the moment and it seemed to be pure enjoyment for him. And that joy was infectious. Thank you, Edward, for all that you gave, especially moments of joy.”

Nancy Smith, Director, Development and Philanthropy, Salzburg Global Seminar


“It’s hard now to believe how terrified I was to follow in Edward's footsteps as Vice President & Chief Program Officer. I knew him only from his reputation and stature – in every sense, as he towered over me. Yet from his first welcome and the fast forging of deep friendship, Edward was brilliant, encyclopedic, irreverent, a crusader for justice and unfailingly helpful. We shared the unusual bond of having lived “above the shop” in the beautiful apartment high in Schloss Leopoldskron, which spawned a crazy camaraderie and plenty of gossip over good Austrian wine. In Salzburg, Burford and around the world, times spent with Edward and Wiz are some of my most cherished memories. I looked forward to seeing them more now I am in Cambridge and cannot believe Edward has died. What a huge loss.

Clare Shine, former Vice President and Chief Program Officer, Salzburg Global Seminar


"When Nancy (Smith) shared the news of Edward's passing, I was deeply saddened. Edward affected so many lives, and mine was one of them. I remember him as this tall giant with incredible wit and intellect that always prompted me to want to be in his presence. I can hear him as if it were yesterday when he challenged me on my commitment to bring diversity to Salzburg Global Seminar. While we were colleagues there, I often brought up the need to have more people of color on the staff, specifically Black Americans, who would bring a diversity of thought, among other things, to Salzburg Global's staff and programs. He thought I was not living into that commitment enough at times.  I also remember building partnerships with him and one in particular. The memory is not so much about the meeting with the UN Foundation president but our walk back to the Washington, DC office then on L Street. He used two words that were not a part of my vocabulary at the time - prescient and obsequious. I stopped in my tracks and asked him what each of them meant. He did not make me feel in the least bit self-conscious but graciously gave me the definition of both. He was always ready to teach and loved willing participants.  
 
I will miss Edward and all that he gave Salzburg Global Seminar and me. John Donne's sonnet comes to mind as I fondly remember Edward: 'Death, be not proud, though some have called thee. Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.'"
 
C. Lynn McNair, former Vice President for Philanthropic Partnerships, Salzburg Global Seminar

From Fellows:

“Edward was a huge support, inspiration and help to so many people and organisations. He was incredibly generous with his time, advice and great wisdom, in supporting the peace building and education work Samosa Media does. He will be hugely missed by many people. I will remember most is his optimism, even when discussing the most difficult and challenging problems and conflicts. He always had an idea for how to improve and make things better, his huge intellect, kindness and optimism made him a very special person.”
Anwar Akhtar, Director, The Samosa Media Project


“I cannot claim to have known Edward well, to my regret, but I benefited from his generous spirit when he was at the UN and I was a young professional seeking career advice and connections in New York. I later had the pleasure of meeting him several times at Seminar events in Salzburg and London, including the last-in-person Palliser Lecture hosted at the Aga Khan Centre. We have all lost an engaged voice for good in the world.”

Dr. Matt Reed, Global Director of Programmes, Aga Khan Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Aga Khan Foundation (UK)


“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Edward. I’d always thought when traveling finally resumes [that] I’ll be able to sit down and continue the conversation where we left off.

Many, many years back, I was on the UNU panel in Tokyo with Edward on 'Responsibility to Protect.' One day my office desk phone rang, and it was Edward saying, 'Can you write up an essay for the Salzburg Global Seminar and send it in by tomorrow?' That was how I was first introduced to the SGS community, and some weeks later, I found myself at the Schloss.

I often sought his advice before some of my key interview recordings. Wherever he was and in whatever timezone, speaking from airport lounges and… onboard trains, he was always ready,  very thoughtful, and generous in sharing with me his thoughts and advice. He knew almost everything about everything, but he was a very keen listener.

His wisdom and guidance will be missed as we live through the perilous time.  But I’d like to think that his accomplishment will live on in the works we continue to commit ourselves to, to create a better world.

Thank you, Edward.  Please rest in peace.”  

Aiko Doden, Member of Salzburg Global Seminar’s Japan Advisory Council, and Special Affairs Commentator, NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp)

If you would like to add a tribute, please email press@salzburgglobal.org