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Remembering Jon Utley (1934–2020)

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It is with great sorrow that I write in memoriam of my dear friend, freedom fighter and champion for peace, Mr. Jon Basil Utley. I’m saddened to share the news that Jon passed away this past weekend. He was 86 years old.

Jon was always such a pleasure to be around, with a quick smile or clever comment to lighten a discussion at the many TFAS events he attended – he was a light in every room.

Jon and TFAS friends at the Great Wall on a rainy day during our TFAS trip to China in 2015.

Jon was a long-time supporter and friend of our TFAS International programs. He had his own unique story of how he came to support the cause of freedom.

At a very young age, Jon fled to the United States with his mother, Freda, a famous Soviet exile and anti-Communist intellectual from Russia, after his father was executed by the Soviets ahead of WWII.

Following his upbringing in an anti-Communist home, Jon spent his lifetime opposing tyranny and became a fierce anti-war advocate. He went on to serve the freedom movement through many causes throughout his life, including the Committee for the Republic, and most recently as board member and publisher of The American Conservative magazine.

I was proud to be among friends and scholars who gave tribute to Jon last year when he received The American Conservative’s Lifetime of Courage Award.

As I shared in my tribute, it brings a smile to my face to recall Jon’s spirit: ‘He had the energy of a teenager, the intellect of a college professor and the collegiality of a brother,’ and I know still: these traits were the vital ingredients to his effectiveness as a champion for liberty.

Myself, Jon and Bob Pruger at the TFAS alumni reception in Beijing.

Writing was one of the ways he shared his passion for liberty. Jon was a foreign correspondent in South America for Knight Ridder newspapers and for 17 years, beginning during the Reagan Administration, he was a commentator on third world issues for “Voice of America.”

He carried this skill with him throughout his life, and his reporting and opinions were featured in several publications including the “Harvard Business Review,” “The Washington Post” and many more. Jon was also a founding editor of “The Bogota Bulletin,” associate editor of “The Times of the Americas” and a contributing editor to “The Conservative Digest.”

With his keen interest in international relations, we were blessed to have Jon join us on one of our recent TFAS journeys, a cruise through China in 2015. There we met with local TFAS alumni and explored great wonders together, touring China’s past and present, from bustling Shanghai to the ancient Forbidden City. The opportunity to bond with Jon and other TFAS supporters while learning and experiencing a new culture is one I’ll always cherish.

Jon, Fred Barnes and Frank Lauinger on our riverboat cruise along the Yangtse River near Xian.

I last visited with Jon when he attended our recent Founders’ Day event in February. There, I found him sitting at a table during the reception making friends – as he alway did – and engaging in lively discussion with some of our young TFAS alumni and guests, passing on stories of his life filled with experiences and passion for the cause of liberty.

It was important that these young alumni – the rising generation of future leaders – heard from Jon as a man who led an extraordinary life with a wealth of experience. I know hearing Jon’s story has better prepared them for leadership in the future, and we will continue to share his example and pass onward the torch of liberty he carried into the next generation.

May he rest in peace.

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