On December 2, 1999, a memorial service for Sander was held in St Bride's church, Fleet Street, London. Here, you can find the introductory bidding by William Dawkins, as well as speeches by Tom de Waal and Quentin Peel. Moreover, you can read a poem written by Harriet and a sonnet by Shakespeare, as read by Ian Nugrahane in the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub in Fleet Street after the church service.

by William Dawkins

We gather in this parish church of St Bride's, the spiritual home of journalists, to celebrate and give thanks for the life of Sander Thoenes: the most dedicated seeker after truth, the most courageous of colleagues and the most loyal of friends.

We give thanks for Sander's warmth and for his indefatigable spirit. We give thanks for his determination to attain the highest quality in his many friendships around the world in Asia, Europe and the United States. We give thanks for his refusal to accept humbug and his ability to make the complex plain and the difficult accessible.

We give thanks, most of all, for his ability to draw the attention of powerful people to the plight of the ordinary people swept up in events beyond their control. For this reason, even those who did not know Sander have reason to give thanks.

Those who did know Sander remember his humour, his friendship and his infectious enthusiasm, among many other qualities. We give thanks for having been enriched by Sander's lively spirit. He will never grow old.

We pray for justice and peace in East Timor and for all the people of Indonesia, where Sander so tragically gave his life.

Tom de Waal's speech


I don't remember quite when we first met but I certainly remember where. It was the newsroom of the Moscow Times some time in September 1993. I was one of the second wave of journalists on the paper, and it was such a young newspaper that you were already a veteran.

It really was an extraordinary time. To be 30 at the Moscow Times, Moscow's English-language newspaper, was to be old. We were located on Truth Street, Ulitsa Pravdy - opposite the headquarters of Pravda. Our salaries were low, the office was miles from anywhere and we spent half the time persuading the drivers to get us out of there. The lunches were awful. I shall never forget those indigestible cheese sandwiches. We stayed late, undergoing the endless and rigorous editing of Meg Bortin, Jay Ross and Marc Champion. We all lived in apartments rented from Russians. Sander's was the most Russian of the lot - crammed full of bicycles and skis. You half expected to find jars of pickled cucumbers or home-stilled vodka behind the door.

And yet we were covering, day by day, hour by hour, perhaps the biggest story in the world - Russia's first experience after Communism. So it was a thrilling time. It was sometimes rather a tired newsroom, particularly when the slush was grey and the tenth Russian bureaucrat didn't answer their phone that day. But the predominant feeling was one of enthusiasm. And the biggest enthusiast of all was Sander. He didn't so much walk as bound in the morning, saying "What are we going to do today? Who are we going to go after today?" He had a walk full of confidence and that smile right across his face and he was always wearing a long Russian army coat that looked as though it dated from 1945 and a shaggy Russian hat, that made him look more like someone from Omsk than from the Netherlands.

And his enthusiasm extended to weekends. When the rest of us were lying low in our apartments, Sander would be out bicycling all round the Moscow region with his Russian friends on Russia's difficult and potholed roads.

I don't think we were close at first. Sander was a private person and he had a small number of really close and strong friends- and they're here today. For me and for many others he was something else - a good colleague, the best kind of colleague. He was kind, speaking many different languages, tenacious, always worried about money!, brave. In his pursuit of a story he had an invaluable quality for a journalist in Russia - he didn't accept a closed door, he didn't understand the meaning of the word "nyet." I remember how he pursued the story of a split in the LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's extreme right party. They accused Sander of being a CIA agent - and he loved it. And how he went off to the far north of Russia to investigate a huge oil spill - that revealed his passion for environmental subjects. And how he wrote about all the bureaucratic hurdles he had to go through to rent a piano in Moscow. Sander surmounted them all - and he got his piano and played on it.

Then I remember on October 3 when fighting broke out on the streets of Moscow. I called Marc Champion and asked him what to do. He told me to head up to the television centre at Ostankino. I arrived and there was a seething crowd of demonstrators - and in the middle of them course was Sander. He'd already checked out what was going on. He was very professional and very excited. Then the shooting started and we hid behind a wall together as the bullets flew over our heads.

I look back on that night and think of all the other scrapes and conflicts we headed off to. To Chechnya in my case, to Chechnya and then to Kosovo for Carlotta Gall. Sander went to Afghanistan and he ended up in East Timor.

Were we naïve? Yes -- but in a good sense, I think. Even now I believe we wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way.

It was after Moscow that we became closer. We saw each other in Almaty and in London. I think Sander opened up more. He was looking for the place where he could be really himself and I think he found that place in Indonesia.

Sander, I don't think I was alone, when you died, in experiencing a feeling of being let down. How could you leave us that way, still so young and full of promise? There was so much still to talk about. Surely we'd all made a pact that we would live through these things and then get back together and talk it all over. That feeling passed of course. What remains is the feeling of the loss of a unique person and also of happiness to have known you and to have been enthused by you. But we still miss you very much.

Quentin Peel's speech

When Sander Thoenes walked through my door at the Financial Times nearly five years ago, it only took me a couple of minutes to be quite certain I wanted to give him a job. It might have been something he said about what he was doing then - working as the back-up correspondent and general dogsbody in the US News and World Report office in Moscow. I asked him how he liked his job. He said: "I love every minute of it. I am just amazed that they pay me." I thought: "This is my kind of guy."

But perhaps it was really just the way he talked about Russia, with intelligence and amusement and insight and enthusiasm. He loved the country, and it infuriated him. But he was ready to move on. He wanted more than anything else to work for the FT, and he wanted to work in Indonesia. How on earth could I say No?

It still took nearly two years to get him there, which was a subject of considerable frustration to Sander. We both knew it was potentially the best story in the whole of Asia. Our sort of story. The old order was about to collapse. And an entire creaking empire might very well go with it. It was political, economic, business, financial, social and human. It had everything. It was tailor-made for a young Dutchman with a dream about reporting the world. But it wasn't going to wait for the FT to get its act together, and appoint a new correspondent in the fullness of time. So I offered him the chance to prove himself in central Asia.

I suspect he was disappointed. But he grabbed the opportunity, and the pretty modest retainer that went with it. "Don't worry," he said when I apologised. "I'm Dutch. I'm cheap." What I also discovered fairly quickly was that he was a tough negotiator. And you should have seen the size of his telephone bills. He was a thoroughly modern young man. He could never understand why we didn't have the technology to allow him to file on the internet, and just use local phone calls instead of full-cost international lines.

That year in central Asia allowed him to prove what I knew in my heart: that he would be a wonderful FT correspondent, with all the toughness and resourcefulness to work in a very difficult environment, with persistence and imagination and boundless energy and enthusiasm and good humour. He covered the oil story, and the politics, the economics and the corruption. He irritated not a few tired old apparatchiks. He built up the contacts, the files and the good will. And he put central Asia on the map, not least in the minds of the FT. So I was pretty fed up when he announced he was desperate to move on.

He went back to Holland to learn Bahasa, and immerse himself in the history and culture of Indonesia. He used to ring me up practically every week demanding to know when he could leave for Jakarta. It still took a few months to get him there. It was only just in time. The rupiah had been in free fall for a month by the time he arrived. He was literally thrown in the deep end. He revelled in it.

I found an excuse to visit him when he had been there barely a month. He had set himself up in a modest little house, with the masthead from the newspaper tacked over his front door. He had found himself an interpreter, and a housekeeper-cum-office manager and general administrator. That was Meta, in whom he inspired the sort of love and devotion so many people have expressed in the past few months.

Sander was up and running. The air conditioning wasn't great, but the computer was wired up. And his priorities were right. He was determined to buy himself a piano before he got a dining room table.

We threw a party to welcome him, courtesy of the advertising department of the FT. They wanted to sell a supplement. I wanted to tell the world we had got a wonderful new correspondent. It was a good combination, and paid for a decent reception. Someone created a fantastic flower display ten feet tall at the hotel entrance, saying: "Welcome to Indonesia, Sander Thoenes." I had to make a speech telling them that he might look only 16, with a cloud of curls and an air of sweet innocence, but he was actually a hard-bitten old hack before his time. He had done Russia. He had done central Asia. But this was the story he had been waiting for.

He might have only been in town for a month, but we still managed to see the governor of the central bank, the foreign minister, the minister of mines, and a string of other lesser dignitaries, all in less than a week. Then we set off for Borneo to discover the source of the "haze" - the forest fires whose smoke was choking Singapore and Malaysia, not to mention half of Indonesia.

Don't worry. I won't tell you the whole story. It was one of those hectic, chaotic trips into the heart of darkness - almost literally - which make it all worthwhile.

It was a slog. We were pursuing Sander's conviction that behind the fires lay a story of the corruption of President Suharto's cronies in the dying Indonesian regime. We interviewed people who were obviously scared to talk. We knocked on doors and found officials had gone travelling, and others were simply not at home. We talked to fire fighters, and we talked to village farmers. We worked till midnight, to the considerable distress of our driver and interpreter. But we came out with a fantastic story of vast acres of Borneo's peat bogs set on fire to satisfy a presidential whim, a gigantic resettlement scheme for the population of Java. And smouldering uncontrollably as the fire crept underground.

Sander was in his element. He had a story, and he wasn't going to let it go. It wasn't just a story about an ecological disaster. It was also about political corruption and incompetence. It was a story of a society, an entire political system, on the point of collapse. He was not just inquisitive. He was also angry. But he didn't let it cloud his judgement. Except that he went on taking so many photographs that we missed the plane back to Jakarta. But that's another story.

Sander was an extraordinary young man. It is desperately sad to see such wonderful talent snuffed out so soon. He had everything ahead of him. If he could have been persuaded to leave his beloved Indonesia, he could have done any job on the newspaper. It makes me very angry to think what we all have missed.

But I am also very proud to have known him, to have given him the opportunity of doing the job of his dreams, and to have seen him in action. Nobody is perfect, but Sander was damn good. He was a fine reporter. He had all the attributes of a great correspondent. I am sure his story will be an inspiration to many young journalists to come. I can only say: Farewell. Go well, Sander Thoenes."

Harriet's Poem

Ian Nugrahane: "This following beautiful poem is a gift from Harriett Richards, a dear friend of both Sander and me. This I read at the Johnson Room in the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub in Fleet Street after the church service in London, and it relatively accurate when it comes to Sander's personality and his life."

Most people go to their graves with the music still in them.
They die unlived.
But you - you were never going to go quietly. We all heard your song.

You were vulnerable - you reached out.
You were eager like a child.
You were definite - firm about this and firm about that.
You were stubborn, you pushed.
You strove, you were determined.
You laughed a lot, you talked too fast - you lived too fast, always in a hurry.
You loved hopelessly, sweetly, recklessly.
You were gentle, you were kind - a true friend.
You dreamed, blue eyed angel, visions of happinesss in your dreamed-lit eyes.
You held nothing back, the pain and the joy.
You were spirited, and far too brave.
You took everything life had to offer,
And gave everything you had.

Your symphony rang out loud and clear, the world was happier for hearing it.

You lived,

And we can never forget the music we heard.

(This poem was written by Harriett on Sander's birthday on 7 Nov 1999)

Shakespeare's sonnet

This is the sonnet which Sander sent to me in early april, just to show me that he was as romantic as anyone can be. How can you be more romantic than Sander, who - after I mentioned to him that I like Eric Satie - played a Satie on the piano when we were both at home together ? And I read this poem in the Johnson room in the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub in Fleet Street after the church service in London, as this sonnet also reflect parts of my feelings toward him.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest,
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


Hampshire College
Washington, DC