- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2019

WORCESTER, Mass. — Top officials from three U.S. presidential administrations — Democratic and Republican — were among the hundreds who crammed into a modest funeral home in this working-class city over the weekend to mourn the loss of John L. Sullivan, an American diplomat who everyone agreed died too young.

The 37-year-old was one of the brightest lights in a generation of foreign policy professionals who came of age working on the front lines overseas in the difficult post-9/11 era.

Known simply as “Sully,” he was someone most Americans might never hear about. Although he recently worked in the private sector as a consultant for Arab governments, Mr. Sullivan made his mark as a star official in the complex world of financial intelligence at the Treasury Department.

During his career there and in earlier service with the departments of State and Defense, he earned a well-deserved reputation for the tireless and fearless determination with which he represented the U.S. government over three administrations as a force for good in the Middle East — as well as a God-given ability to have fun while doing it.

At a time when the media often portray the United States as riven by acrimony, Saturday’s services in Worcester were anything but. Mourners gathered in a quintessentially American city to remember and celebrate a patriot who lived above the fray of partisanship.



“There was a special, classic American moment here,” said Juan Zarate, a George W. Bush administration deputy national security adviser who was among those paying respect.

“It’s not only the setting of this working-class town producing a son who did so much for America in faraway lands, but what Sully represented as a person,” said Mr. Zarate. “He was the guy next door, the guy you wanted to have a beer with, the guy who was ambitious and idealistic, but also somehow very humble in a way that represents the best of America and what we export to the world through our people.”

Mr. Zarate spoke with The Washington Times after a motorcade spanning more than two miles climbed through Worcester’s hills and snaked down its narrow streets between old factory buildings and three-decker houses to St. John’s Cemetery, where Mr. Sullivan was laid to rest.

It was a moment of somber reflection for a close-knit community of family and friends, but the presence of Mr. Zarate and other high-level Washington insiders added a layer of gravity, underscoring what the country, not just Worcester, had lost.

David S. Cohen, the Obama-era undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, was there. So was Daniel Glaser, a former assistant secretary for terrorism financing, who spoke candidly in a heartfelt eulogy about Mr. Sullivan’s generosity, kindness and work as a diplomat.

Trump administration Treasury officials also were on hand to deliver an American flag that was flown over the department in Mr. Sullivan’s honor on Friday. It was presented to his wife, Haya Abu Sharar, and the young couple’s daughter, 9-month-old Suzanne.

Mr. Sullivan met Ms. Sharar in her native Jordan. She worked for the United Nations; he was with Treasury. They fell in love and moved together in recent years to Washington.

Mr. Sullivan died Sept. 2 after collapsing while visiting family in Worcester. The cause was unclear. He had overcome cancer years ago.

Mr. Sullivan rose quickly through the civilian ranks of those serving America overseas.

Armed with a Middle Eastern studies degree from George Washington University, he began at The Rendon Group, a global strategic communications firm in Washington, before taking a Defense Department position in 2004 that put him in Baghdad.

Once there, he was tapped as director of the Arab media unit in the U.S. Embassy’s public affairs section at the height of the U.S.-led occupation.

‘Shockingly different’

Mr. Sullivan, who was not related to John J. Sullivan, another Massachusetts native who serves as deputy secretary of state, later worked at State Department headquarters in Washington before he was ultimately recruited by Treasury.

He initially worked in public relations. The Treasury Department tapped him in 2014 to become its top attache for Iraq and sent him back to Baghdad just as the Islamic State was threatening to sack the war-torn Iraqi capital.

By the time he was 35, Mr. Sullivan had enough certificates of merit from U.S. agencies to fill the walls of a large office, but few knew — he did not brag about such things.

What he did brag about, often and loudly, was Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. He also made it a priority to have fun and to do all he could to make sure friends and co-workers shared in his upbeat take on life — no matter where they were, including in the most austere and stressful corners of American foreign policy.

Mr. Glaser said in his eulogy that the only time he could recall Mr. Sullivan being admonished by the U.S. government was during one tour in Iraq, when he was reprimanded for cursing too loudly and too joyously during a karaoke night at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

While those who knew him say he was destined to return to either Treasury or State to continue serving his country in the years ahead, Mr. Sullivan had stepped out of government officialdom at the time of his death.

He had moved to the Financial Integrity Network, a private company run by former American officials. The job still had him traveling almost constantly between Washington and the Middle East, particularly to Qatar, where he was consulting with the government.

Even in that role, Mr. Sullivan was known and beloved throughout the foreign policy community and by many journalists in the U.S. and the Middle East as a rare character who must be checked with, would always take the call and — more important — could always be trusted to tell the truth.

He was exalted in a widely circulated Washington Post opinion column in recent days that noted how “more than 300 people visited his wife’s family’s home in Amman, Jordan, [last] week to pay their respects … some of whom knew him only by his reputation as a generous and gregarious representative of the United States who worked tirelessly to bridge gaps, solve problems and help people in need.”

But he was also a close friend of The Washington Times, a stalwart guide who could be relied upon to untangle and explain the most complex aspects of U.S. foreign policy, including Iranian developments, obscure sanctions designations and all the vexing entanglements of Middle East geopolitics.

Arab reporters relied on him too, said Said Arikat, a journalist and analyst with Al Quds, the largest-circulation Palestinian newspaper.

“For me, John Sullivan was shockingly different in the most positive ways as far as American civil servants were concerned, despite being so young,” said Mr. Arikat. “I met him in Baghdad when he was in his 20s. He genuinely knew Arab politics, history and culture.

“He was unassuming and believed in the goodness of most people anywhere. When it comes to foreign policy, especially today, people like John are exactly what the United States needs. America was lucky to have him as a representative in the Middle East.”

Others haven’t been able to say enough about his generosity as a friend. A hastily arranged campaign on the website GoFundMe under the title “John Sullivan family fund” has raised nearly $60,000 in recent days.

“Sully did a lot in a short life,” Mr. Zarate said. “He was willing to sacrifice, to put himself in harm’s way so that others wouldn’t have to. He was willing to put himself in the middle of our wars and our controversies and not only represent America, but be the best of America in the face of all of it.

“There’s a core element of the national security community that’s still not political. … Sully obviously understood that. He wasn’t partisan in any way. He was striving to pursue not just American interests, but broader, human interests. What made him great was that everyone could see his genuineness.”

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