US Ambassador passes away

James Kon

United States (US) Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Matthew J Matthews passed away on May 20.

The news of his passing was announced by the Embassy of the United States of America in Brunei Darussalam in a statement yesterday.

Following the sudden passing of Ambassador Matthews, United States (US) Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo said, “Ambassador Matthews had a long and distinguished career in the State Department and was admired by all with whom he worked…. We have lost a true leader, mentor, and colleague in our community and will miss him dearly.”

Assistant Secretary David Stilwell remembered Ambassador Matthews for his “passionate energy, sense of humour, quick wit, and big heart that made him a true model, leader, and a good friend and ally wherever he served and travelled.”

According to the statement, Ambassador Matthews presented his credentials to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam on April 15, 2019.

During his time as ambassador, he was a strong proponent of people-to-people ties between Brunei and the US, selecting this as the theme of the 2019 US Independence Day celebration and advocating for exchange programmes such as Fulbright and YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative).

File photo of the late United States (US) Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Matthew J Matthews. PHOTO: EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN BRUNEI DARUSSALAM

Ambassador Matthews also expanded bilateral economic cooperation and security partnership, highlighted by the 25th iteration of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Exercise in 2019.

Ambassador Matthews often said that the best part of serving in Brunei was being welcomed into friends’ homes, meeting their families and sharing food.

He also enjoyed exploring cuisines of Brunei, sharing discoveries of new dishes and restaurants. He began scuba diving in Brunei and received his certification here. He read history, including exploring accounts of early Brunei-US relations.

Ambassador Matthews loved sharing US culture with Bruneians and creating opportunities for live performances. He was instrumental in bringing cultural envoys such as the bluegrass band The Henhouse Prowlers and Hawaiian musicians The Daniel Ho Group to Brunei, as well as the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet Band. His rousing rendition of Country Road, accompanied by The Henhouse Prowlers and members of the embassy, was one of the highlights of his tour. He also enjoyed meeting young Bruneians during visits to schools and other organisations.

A career diplomat, Ambassador Matthews’ first postings included two tours in Beijing, two tours in Taipei, Islamabad, Hong Kong, and Washington DC. Later, as the Counsellor for Economic Affairs at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and at the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia, Ambassador Matthews focussed on multilateral trade agreements. From 2013 to 2015, he served as the Foreign Policy Advisor to Commander of the US Pacific Command Admiral Locklear and as the Deputy Principal Officer at the US Consulate General in Hong Kong from 2010 to 2013. From June 2015 to March 2019, Ambassador Matthews served as the US Ambassador for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and concurrently the deputy assistant secretary for Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Ambassador Matthews spoke fluent Mandarin.

Ambassador Matthews grew up in Portland, Oregon and received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon. He attended the Inter-University Programme for Chinese Language Studies in Taipei, and earned a Master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC.

Ambassador Matthews leaves behind his wife Rachel, two adult children Kristen and Daniel, his daughter-in-law Elizabeth and his granddaughter Emilia, who reside in the US.

The embassy will announce open hours for the signing of a condolence book after the Hari Raya Aidilfitri holiday.