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Yale 62

Steve BuckStephen Worcester Buck

Steve Buck, an Arab World specialist, who put in a lifetime of service to his country and to Yale, passed on peacefully on April 30, 2023. He was preparing with his family to celebrate his 83rd birthday.

Steve was born on May 6, 1940, in Bronxville, N.Y. and attended Scarsdale High School. At Yale he was a scholarship student, a History honors major, and a ranking scholar. He was a member of Pierson College, where he was very active (chief printer, woodshop head, Sun board and crew). He was also a member of the Yale Political Union, A.I.S.E.C. (secretary-treasurer) and Yale Banner board (secretary, then associate editor.) His roommate in Freshman Year was George Snider, and later in Pierson, he roomed with Chip Neville. In his biography in our Class Book, Steve described his future occupation as “Foreign Service, after study at Fletcher School or Johns Hopkins.”

And, improving on this plan, he went on to earn two graduate degrees from the Fletcher School at Tufts, a Masters in Law and Diplomacy and a Masters in International Relations and International Economics. He also earned a Masters in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard.

Steve served in the U.S. Foreign Service Office from 1963 to 2003. During that period, he served at U.S. diplomatic posts in eight Arab countries, including Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), Muscat, Oman, 1979-83; DCM Baghdad, Iraq, 1986-88; Consul General, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 1996-1999; and Office Director for North Africa, 1992-1995. He also served as a Professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, teaching courses on national security and energy economics.

When Steve retired from the Foreign Service, he and his wife Hala made their home in Maryland, where Steve continued to teach, speak and write professionally. Steve also became an active part of multiple organizations mentoring and supporting underprivileged young men and boys, and founded the Middle East Lunch Group at DACOR, Middle East Task Force at River Road Unitarian Church, and a men’s support group that has been active for 30 years. The members of these groups, and many others, remain deeply connected to and grateful for him and his legacy.

Steve is survived by his wife Hala, a writer, counselor, art therapist, and cross-cultural educator, their daughter Leila, an actor, playwright, educator and facilitator, and his sister Ruth Ifversen, also a retired Foreign Service Officer thanks to her brother’s wise counsel.

Our class was informed of Steve’s passing in an email from Hala to Jean McKillop, our class’s communications consultant, who had just written to Hala with many birthday greetings from various classmates:

Dear Jean,

“Thank you for your caring message.

“Sadly, Steve passed away late last night from congestive heart failure. It was very peaceful.

“Even though hospice prepared us it was close, we are in shock and feel it’s all surreal.

“Please pass on to all and thank them for all the messages and cards which we read to him.

“Thank you deeply for your kindness and help.

“Hugs, Hala”

Steve had been part of a core group of classmates who provide leadership and service to our Class over the years. He served as Co-Corresponding Secretary for several years, and he had been an active member of the Yale 1962 Communications Team. (You will find many examples of his work here on our class website.) And he did this in a modest, warm, and gentle way. This quality was captured by our Class Secretary, John Stewart:

“Steve wore his vast career experience, his wisdom and intelligence very lightly and modestly. He was passionate and very hands-on knowledgeable about world affairs. What he wrote for us displayed an elegant no-words-wasted writing style, and he was a great source of stability for the communications team. A very valued team member.”

Classmates expressed fond memories of Steve’s life work as a bridger, a feeler, a server, and a carer. Freshman and Pierson roommate George Snider reflected:

“I’m sure you have access to details of his distinguished State Department career and to Hala’s memories. I would add that Steve felt deeply about other people’s ability to express their feelings. He formed a men’s group in the D.C. area and for many years served as a big brother to an inner-city Black youth named Claude. Though not a Rotarian, Steve exemplified the Rotary motto of service above self.”

George also shared the 83rd birthday greetings that he had sent to Hala and Leila for Steve:

“Hello Roomie.

“On the occasion of your 83rd birthday, I forgive you for having snagged the single bedroom in our Pierson luxury residence, leaving me to sleep with Chip Neville (well, not literally) in the shared bedroom. We did have a pretty nice living room filled with hand-me-down furniture, a decent hi-fi and good bottles of Old Forester bourbon. On various weekends, we traveled to your Scarsdale home on Circle Road and to the Brauner home down the street, spending evenings with Andrea and her college friend Peggy. Other weekends we drove to Vassar or partied at the Yale Banner offices, where we plied dates with the notorious Banner punch. It was the last of the Cole Porter years at Yale, and I think we spent our four well lived. During the sixty-one years since, I have treasured our continued friendship and your unstinting concern for others.

“With fondest birthday greetings, George”

Bob Breault, who lived across the hall from Steve in Welch Hall during Freshman Year, shared a few of his memories with all of us:

“The talks that I can remember and can talk about start with our 25th Reunion (or one long ago anyway). Many of us gave a short talk. Steve Buck gave a talk about his service as a Middle East diplomat (Deputy Chief of Mission). He talked about his Yale professor and lifetime advisor when he was in Egypt. Suddenly Steve started crying. He told us why. The reason was that his professor told him that ‘This will be the last time we will talk.’ Steve was unprepared and shocked to the core. After 30 years during which they discussed U.S. foreign policy and related issues monthly. Steve asked why. His professor said. ‘I have terminal cancer and will die within a month. I’ve enjoyed our lifetime of conversations.’ As Steve related it, he cried.

“I also made a passionate presentation that afternoon. I opened my heart about my service to the global community as did a couple other classmates. So much so that when the class was dismissed. Barbara Oliver stood up behind us all and yelled, ‘Sit down!’ Then she said, ‘I’ve never known a class of grown men who have made such a vast commitment and dedication to each other, Yale, their country and the world.’

“Another time, not many years ago, the leader of the Friday Pilots, Retired Maj/Gen Don Shepperd was going to give a talk to the Eller Graduate Business School students here in town on Middle East issues. Don had been military adviser to CNN for several years. I hooked him up with Steve Buck. They did discuss issues. I went to Don’s presentation. Don’s words reflected much that probably came from Steve.

“So, Steve made his contributions his entire life to global peace and economic development in the Middle East. I personally hold them very close. I have great admiration for Steve.

“Warmly, Bob”

Al Chambers reflected on Steve’s exemplary work in the Middle East, the most difficult area of the world, calling him “the consummate diplomat” in a variety of ways.

“He truly understood the craft, and he loved it. Steve was a diplomat in the truest sense, in that if he and his team did their work well, most people would never see what he did.”

We conclude with some words from Steve himself on what has driven him in his work and what he has learned about himself over the years, from his work experiences, from his colleagues and counterparts, and from the men’s groups of which he has been involved since 1989. These reflections are from his essay in our 50th Reunion Book:

“So, what have I learned? On the Myers-Briggs test I score off the charts as an extrovert, something I got from my dad, Guernsey Buck, Trumbull ’37. I love to meet people and most of all to be real with them and they with me. This is why I loved the Foreign Service life so much – constantly meeting new and interesting people – and often really getting to know them, contrary to the image that the diplomatic life is all small talk. In my first post, Algiers, four Algerians offered me a place to stay after Algeria broke diplomatic relations, even though this put them at considerable risk…

“What troubles me right now is that the U. S. is so divided, each ‘side’ damning ‘the other.’ My whole life and Hala’s and Leila’s have been about reaching out to those who are ‘different’ and humanizing rather than objectifying. For me part of this recently has been on panels combating an organized campaign in the U. S. promoting ‘Islamophobia.’

“Whatever this divide, I work at bridging it. I am grateful that Hala and Leila are each in their own creative ways doing the same.”

All of us who have been blessed to know Stephen Worcester Buck over the years have seen and been influenced by this bridging quality he possessed. He will be deeply missed, and his work will live on.

— Douglas “Tim” Hall


“If There Were Words”
a poem by Susan Bergman Meehan

If there were words, Steve,
that could bring you back,
we would all be joining in.
If there were deeds
that could bring you home,
we would link our arms
as we are linking our hearts
and pull you back to life.
But this cannot happen, we know,
  and so, let our hearts, instead, mourn as one.
May this bring solace to the many who grieve the passing
of Steve Buck – a beloved member of our class –
  a person much worthy of admiration in our lives.

A Sampling of Steve’s Writings on our Class Website over the Years

Iraq: From Here to Samarra

LEBANON – A Father’s and a Daughter’s Perspectives

Iraq – One Year Later

Refugees in Eritrea, 1969

Ukraine, from a Diplomat’s Perspective

And many more. Use the Search feature on the left-hand side of any page of our website to search more essays written by Steve.