Tag Archives: United Nations

Remembering Martha Aasen: The Sequel

My “06880” tribute to Martha Aasen — the long-time civic and political volunteer who died last week at 90 — mentioned many of her remarkable accomplishments.

Memorial Day 2018 grand marshal Larry Aasen and his wife Martha. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

The Mississippi native worked tirelessly for the Democratic Party, at the local, state and national levels. She founded the Y’s Women, served as president of the Westport Library Board of Trustees, was a Senior Center board member, and a very active Sunrise Rotarian.

But that’s like saying Mozart “wrote music.”

In fact, Martha Aasen’s achievements fill several pages.

Here’s just a sampling.

Between 1977 and 1990, she held a number of positions with the United Nations Secretariat. They included:

  • Chief, non-governmental organization and institutional relations, Department of Public Information
  • Electoral supervisor, UN transition assistance group, Namibia
  • Chief, public inquiries and group program units, UN Public Services.

Previously, Martha represented the League of Women Voters of the United States at the UN. She organized the largest public meeting ever held there (1,800 people in the General Assembly).

Martha Aasen, in her professional days.

Before the UN, Martha held editorial and publishing positions with McGraw-Hill, Famous Writers Schools and Lyceum Books. She lectured at Southern Connecticut State University, and was an executive recruiter with International Executive Service Corps in Stamford.

Beyond her volunteer efforts mentioned earlier, and her political activity — for which the Democratic Women of Westport gave her a Silver Donkey Award, then named their Yellow Dog Democrat honor after her — she was a moderator and deacon of Saugatuck Congregational Church, a member of the boards of governors and directors of the United Nations Association of the United States, and part of the Mary Baldwin College alumnae board.

Decades ago, Governor William O’Neill named her an “Outstanding Woman of the Decade.”

And … Martha Aasen was also a justice of the peace.

May she now rest in peace.

jUNe Day Busts Out

For the 51st summer, Westport welcomed United Nations diplomats, staff members and their families. Our jUNe Day guests enjoyed soccer, swimming, tennis, and visits to spots like Earthplace and downtown.

Every year on jUNe Day, flags of visitors’ nations replace the American flags on the Post Road’s Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

So who was Ruth Steinkraus Cohen?

The founder and — for many years — guiding spirit behind the annual event.

There could be no better tribute — and no finer day for our guests.

(PhotoCharlie Colasurdo)

(PhotoCharlie Colasurdo)

Anthony Banbury: “The UN Is Failing”

Anthony Banbury served the United Nations as assistant secretary-general for field support. He dealt with the Haiti earthquake, conflict in the Central African Republic, and the prohibition of chemical weapons in Syria.

His latest assignment was as head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

Anthony Banbury

Anthony Banbury

He’s earned kudos for his work around the globe — and at UN headquarters in New York. He commuted there from his Westport home.

Now Banbury is leaving.

In a story to be published in this Sunday’s New York Times — and already posted online — Banbury writes: “I care deeply for the principles the United Nations is designed to uphold. And that’s why I have decided to leave.”

The Westporter describes a

blur of Orwellian admonitions and Carrollian logic that govern the place. If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.

Banbury describes astonishingly, scarily frustrating incidents involving his Ebola work; lack of accountability; decisions driven more by “political expediency” than by the UN’s own values, and more.

A 10-year-old Ebola survivor, and Tony Banbury.

A 10-year-old Ebola survivor, and Tony Banbury.

He concludes:

I am hardly the first to warn that the United Nations bureaucracy is getting in the way of its peacekeeping efforts. But too often, these criticisms come from people who think the United Nations is doomed to fail. I come at it from a different angle: I believe that for the world’s sake we must make the United Nations succeed.

In the run-up to the election of a new secretary general this year, it is essential that governments, and especially the permanent members of the Security Council, think carefully about what they want out of the United Nations. The organization is a Remington typewriter in a smartphone world. If it is going to advance the causes of peace, human rights, development and the climate, it needs a leader genuinely committed to reform.

United Nations

The bureaucracy needs to work for the missions; not the other way around. The starting point should be the overhaul of our personnel system. We need an outside panel to examine the system and recommend changes. Second, all administrative expenses should be capped at a fixed percentage of operations costs. Third, decisions on budget allocations should be removed from the Department of Management and placed in the hands of an independent controller reporting to the secretary general. Finally, we need rigorous performance audits of all parts of headquarters operations.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is a man of great integrity, and the United Nations is filled with smart, brave and selfless people. Unfortunately, far too many others lack the moral aptitude and professional abilities to serve. We need a United Nations led by people for whom “doing the right thing” is normal and expected.

To read Anthony Banbury’s entire piece, click here.

(Hat tip: Maxine Bleiweis)

jUNe Day Busted Out All Over

The weather was cloudy and chilly. A number of potential guests were home celebrating Ramadan.

But Westport’s 50th annual jUNe Day drew nearly 200 United Nations workers and their families to Westport today.

Assistant Secretary-General Carole Wainaina of Kenya and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe traded welcomes at Saugatuck Elementary School. But this was nothing like a General Assembly meeting.

A  little music and a few munchies later, everyone was off: to downtown, Longshore, Compo, Earthplace, Wakeman Town Farm and all points in between.

No translation was needed — beyond the word “fun.”

Flags from around the world replace the Stars and Stripes on jUNe Day. Too bad there was no breeze to flutter them. (Photo/Jim Chillington)

Flags from around the world replace the Stars and Stripes on jUNe Day. Too bad there was no breeze to flutter them. (Photo/Jim Chillington)

No matter where you're from, if you're a little kid it's all about the food. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

No matter where you’re from, if you’re a little kid it’s all about the food. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

Visitors from Peru, Spain, Portugal, the Philippines and enljoyed a tour of Wakeman Town Farm, including an expanded chicken coop, productive beehive, and edible marigolds that protect the borders of the gardens from insects.

Visitors from Peru, Spain, Portugal, the Philippines and more enjoyed a tour of Wakeman Town Farm — including an expanded chicken coop, productive beehive, and edible marigolds that protect the gardens from insects. (Photo/Elizabeth Beller)

A pair of Olympians got into the spirit. William Steinkraus Cohen -- brother of jUNe Day founder Ruth Steinkraus Cohen --

A pair of Olympians got into the spirit. Bill Steinkraus — brother of jUNe Day founder Ruth Steinkraus Cohen — was an equestrian in 6 Olympics. He won 1 individual gold medal, and 2 silvers and a bronze as a team member. Ann Marie Flynn of Westport was a high jumper in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.  (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

For 50 years, Westport soccer teams have taken on their UN counterparts. This trophy is a recent addition to the rivalry. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

For 50 years, Westport soccer teams have taken on their UN counterparts. This trophy is a recent addition to the rivalry. (Photo/Adam Stolpen)

jUNe Day Is Busting Out All Over

For a 45-year tradition, jUNe Day still manages to fly under the radar.

Each year on the last Saturday in jUNe June, up t0 350 United Nations people travel to Westport.  Officially, the event promotes “world peace and international understanding…reinforced through friendship, both for the visitors and their hosts.”

In reality it’s a chance for UN staffers, spouses and kids to escape New York City on a (usually sultry) Saturday, and enjoy a few hours of swimming, tennis, golf, soccer, shopping and whatnot.

This Saturday’s date has special significance — it’s the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter — but that’s really immaterial.  jUNe Day is not about an institution; it’s about the people who work there, and a beachside town that happens to be on a train line an hour away.

For over 4 decades, a small cadre of volunteers has made jUNe Day an important date on the UN calendar.  They make sure flags fly proudly on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge (the name honors a woman who, for years, spearheaded jUNe Day).  They meet guests at the mercifully quick welcoming breakfast; provide hospitality at every venue, and do all the behind-the-scenes chores that make something like this run smoothly.

There are not a lot of them — most Westporters have as much connection with jUNe Day as they do with the UN generally, which is not much — but, quietly and effectively, they have cemented a tie between our town and the global organization that endures.

It’s an honor to welcome UN guests here.  Every Westporter should delight in the chance to show visitors from Mexico, Malta, Mali — and every other corner of earth — what life in a typical American small town is like.

What?  We’re not really typical?

Sssssshhhhh — they don’t need to know.

(To volunteer on jUNe Day, call Barbara Jay:  203-226-1710.  For more information, contact Michaela MacColl at 203-227-9461, or Bill Hass at 203-454-7685.)

Fun In The UN

The sun came out for the 1st time in a month today — just in time for the hordes of visitors who swarmed here for Westport’s UN Day.

Maybe there is a God.

Or an Allah.

Visitors watch the UN-Westport soccer match at PJ Romano Field.

Visitors watch the UN-Westport soccer match at PJ Romano Field -- under a welcome bright sky.