Heidi Kühn is, she says with a gentle smile, a 15th generation American, a proud descendent of Captain John A McNeer who sailed to Maine from Scotland in 1701 for new opportunities and also a 5th generation Marin County resident. I mention this to introduce her to those of you who have not yet had the singular pleasure of meeting this exceptional woman whose genetic gift of courage, adaptability, imagination and the desire for new opportunities is working on behalf of all of us. The new opportunities she sought were not for her self but to change the world significantly by correcting its ills.
She is the founder and CEO of Roots of Peace, an organization whose goal it is to remove land mines worldwide. Her mission is to create a safer world, a world in which children can walk in safety. Heidi, from the time she was a young child, traveled the world, and as she got older was struck by the healing of the war between Japan and the United States. She saw humanity march past destruction and go about the business of forging peace. The lesson was not lost on her.
She knew what it meant to walk through a personal mine field, to dodge a danger invisible until it unexpectedly surfaced. At the age of 30, she was diagnosed with cancer. “Dear God, grand me the gift of life,” was her pre-surgical prayer as she hugged her 3 children, then aged 1, 3 and 5. She recovered, survived, knew the meaning of that gift of life and raised her children to triumphant adulthoods. Her oldest son is a cardiologist, her second son a director of her program in Vietnam, and her daughter a Vogue model who gives half back to Roots of Peace to build schools and soccer fields for girls. And, then her miracle; 8 years after her cancer surgery and having being told that she would never have more children, the doctor announced to her with tears in his eyes, that she was pregnant. This boy is now in High School.
How did she get from all this to the huge task of ridding the world of land mines? When her youngest was a baby, Heidi had seen Princess Diana walk through the minefields of Angola and Bosnia and realized that the removal of even one land mine was an act of peace. She said yes when the Commonwealth Club of SF asked her to host an event at her home, and just three weeks after Princess Diana died, Heidi made a very prophetic toast that the world go from mines to vines. In her home that night was Jody Williams, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with the international campaign to ban land mines. Also there were Caleb Rossiter and General Robert Guard head of the Monterey Institute of Language as well as Jerry White, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and close friend who had lost his leg to a land mine in the Golan as a young boy hiking. This group had a profound effect on Heidi, and, she took her vision right out the front door of her home into the world.
That there are 70,000,000 landmines silently planted in 70 countries means roughly one third of our planet has a land mine problem where the simple act of a child's going outdoors to play can end in mutilation or death. So far Heidi has seen those mines removed and replaced with Rice in Cambodia, grapes in Afghanistan, orchards in Croatia, and wheat in Iraq. Roots of peace watches over all the rescued and newly planted earth.
Israel, the culmination of our humanitarian non-political efforts, brought three faiths together. Jerry told her about a little boy, Danny Yuval, who stepped on a land mine in the Golan while picnicking with his family in February. The image of his leg blown off, his sister blinded and the snow drenched in the red of a child’s blood was too much for Heidi to ignore. Plain and simple, as a mother she could not turn her back this hideous disaster. She went with other mothers to the Knesset, talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as the Minister of Defense. To listen to her story, to hear her talk about going with mothers of all faiths to talk to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, not as a CEO and not just as a woman but as a mother, is a lesson in the power of motherhood to speak on behalf of the children of the world.
She says, as if in disbelief that it could even be so, that there are 1.5 million landmines in the Holy Land. “The Holy Lands are not holy when there are land mines in the ground. Period,” she says and you can hear the determination in her voice. The love in this woman’s heart is overwhelming, her energy incomparable (in the last month she has been to Israel and back, to Afghanastan and Dubai) and her humility the kind that defines real leadership.
What kind of a love letter should she write? I vote for the historically crucial love letter, a love letter to her children talking about what she is doing in the world right now as a result of her love for them. A letter that includes details about the her gratitude to and pride in her her parents and ancestors all the way back to Captain John A. McNeer, for all they taught her about life and her place in this world.
This letter will stand forever as an accurate historical document. Love letters always do.
From me to you with love in the air,
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