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Stephen N. Sestanovich

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Stephen N. Sestanovich Obituary
Stephen N. SestanovichStephen N. Sestanovich, 101, a retired American diplomat, died at home in Moraga, CA, on June 19, 2014, after a long, happy and productive life. Members of his family were with him at the end.

Born December 6, 1912, on the island of Korcula (then under Austro-Hungarian rule, now part of the Republic of Croatia), he was the first child of Roko and Cvita Sestanovich. Roko Sestanovich was on the last ship that left Dalmatian waters before the start of World War I; his wife and son were able to join him in America only in November 1920. Young Steve was, as he later recalled, a "serious and productive little nerd." English came easily to him, and his early ventures in printing gave him extra pocket money from junior high through graduate school. In 1931 he graduated from Oakland's McClymonds High School (to which he paid a lively return visit on his 100th birthday), and in 1935 from St. Mary's College.

Steve enrolled as a Ph.D. student in history at Berkeley, supplementing the earnings of a teaching assistant with jobs in journalism, publishing, and public relations. America's entry into World War II led him, with his strong writing skills, to the Office of War Information. During the war, he served in North Africa and Italy as an editor of daily translations and analyses of enemy radio broadcasts. (The sumptuous Villa Costantino in Bari provided many comforts during the Italian campaign and many stories when it was over.)

After the war, Steve was a military journalist with U.S. occupation forces in Austria and then in Korea, where in 1948 he met, in his own words, "the most beautiful, kindest, and most thoughtful girl in the known universe" - Molly Brown, herself a writer for the Korean Broadcasting Company. They married in July 1949, and for the next twenty-plus years, in addition to raising three children, they traveled the world as representatives of the United States to foreign publics and governments.

As Steve later recalled, the Cold War meant that Washington gave his work all the support he needed, and more. ("More staff. More money. More technology. Even some dirty tricks. Never mind.") His diplomatic assignments included postings in Italy, Thailand, Singapore, Finland, and Venezuela. Steve credited Molly with an important share of his success, from winning over the Mussolini-friendly editor of Il Mattino in Naples to preparing publications that showed Singaporeans the value of an American education.

In 1970, Steve and Molly moved to Moraga, where they enjoyed an active retirement. Their energy was legendary. "I don't really understand what people mean when they talk about being tired," he often said. Schooled in the Foreign Service, Steve and Molly were welcoming hosts. He had an expansive charm and ability to draw others out that fueled many a dinner party or family gathering, as well as meetings of their book club, the Moraga historical society and local Democrats.

Retirement gave Steve a chance to deepen his many interests, from carpentry to history. He was always imagining improvements to their home, and had both the design sense and practical skill to make them a reality. He contributed essays to the Foreign Service Journal (and many letters to the editor of the Chronicle, usually on the urgency of peace). In 1972 he ran for Congress.

For more than thirty years, Steve and Molly were accomplished grandparents. They made family visiting a time of fun, and conveyed boundless enthusiasm for all that their grandchildren had learned and achieved.

Family love and loyalty were everything for Steve. The death of his beloved Molly in March 2014 was an enormous blow. Of the loss of their daughter Mary in 2000, he once wrote that "if there is a God, he or she has not given us an explanation." For him these were life's unforgettable tragedies. But through them he sustained an optimism that he saw as his strongest trait-and that he helped others to share.

Steve is survived by his sons Steve and Ben; his daughters-in-law Kathryn Lauritzen and Ann Hulbert; his son-in-law Bill Sillavo; five grandchildren-Zoe Sillavo Skognes, and Jules, Ben, Nick, and Clare Sestanovich; and two great-grandchildren-Blake and Josh Skognes.

A family memorial service is planned.

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on June 24, 2014
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