It is with great sadness and a very heavy heart that I announce that the Marshall Islands lost a national hero Tuesday with the passing of our Climate Ambassador and former Minister Tony deBrum.
Tony passed away peacefully in Majuro, surrounded by his proud father, as well as his wife and partner in life, Rosalie, and their three children, ten grandchildren and five great grandchildren — including newly born Cei’Ena. My thoughts and prayers, as well as those of the Government and the people of the Marshall Islands, are with them.
Tony’s legacy goes beyond our islands, and will go beyond those of us that call the Marshall Islands home. He fought for our independence, he fought against the tyranny of nuclear weapons and for nuclear justice for our people, and he led the international fight against climate change. The very existence of the Paris Agreement owes a lot to Tony deBrum. He was a giant of history, a legend in every meaning of the word, and a custodian of our shared future.
Born on February 26, 1945 in Tuvalu, Tony grew up in the Marshall Islands during the twelve-year period of US nuclear testing and, as a young boy out fishing with his grandfather, witnessed the horrors of the Bravo Shot, the largest US nuclear test — more than 1,000 times more powerful than Hiroshima. After becoming one of the first Marshallese to attend university, he returned to our island home to play a leading role in the negotiations that secured the Compact of Free Association with the United States, and ultimately our membership in the United Nations. Tony remained consistently and deeply committed to the cause of nuclear justice and global disarmament, and in 2012 was awarded the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Distinguished Peace Leader Award. In 2015 the Right Livelihood Foundation awarded him the Nuclear-Free Future Award and the ‘Alternative Nobel’. In 2016 he was voted the Arms Control Person of the Year and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tony found himself fighting for our country once again in the global battle against climate change. Tony’s vision was captured in the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership in 2013, and in 2015 he contributed to the formation of the High Ambition Coalition. His tireless efforts on the world stage were instrumental in securing the Paris Agreement.
On this day that Tony passed, we also held our final traditional funeral ceremony for Minister Mattlan Zackhras who passed away less than two weeks ago.
I am certain that Tony will join Mattlan in looking over the Marshall Islands. While our nation may have lost two of our finest men, and the Earth two of its fiercest champions, the best thing we can all do to honor their legacies is to keep up the battle for our future — to which they dedicated their lives. We now carry their torch.
Tony made our island home and the rest of the world safer, and more peaceful. And for that a grateful nation and planet says kommol tata. May he rest in the peace that he fought so hard for.
Read more about this in the August 25, 2017 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.