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Late U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens Had Marin Ties

Bay Area native, who is the first U.S. diplomat to die in the line of duty since 1979, is being mourned by his mother Mary Commanday, a former longtime cellist with the Marin Symphony.

The U.S. ambassador to Libya who was killed Tuesday night along with three other Americans in an attack by militants at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a Bay Area native with ties to Marin.

U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed while American and Libyan security personnel fought the attackers together, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said in a briefing in Washington, D.C., Wednesday morning.

Clinton said a "small and savage group" committed the attack. The attackers were reportedly enraged by a film made in the United States depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman.

Stevens, 52, had been serving as the U.S. ambassador to Libya since May, according to the State Department.

Stevens is a Bay Area native who had ties to Marin. His mother Mary Commanday was a longtime cellist for the San Rafael-based Marin Symphony, according to a post on the organization’s website. Commanday played cello in the orchestra from 1976 to 2004. Commanday and her husband, San Francisco Classical Voice founder Robert Commanday, were longtime supporters of classical music, according to the post.

“All of us at the Marin Symphony are as shocked as the rest of the world. We extend our heart-felt condolences to our Symphony family member Mary Commanday, everyone at San Francisco Classical Voice, and her family,” the organization said in a statement.

Stevens had served twice previously in Libya, including as a special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March to November 2011, during the country's revolution.

Stevens spent most of his career serving in the Middle East and northern Africa, including stints in Jerusalem, Israel, Damascus, Syria, Cairo, Egypt, and Morocco.

President Barack Obama praised Stevens this morning.

"Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States," Obama said in a statement. "His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice."

Stevens was a 1978 graduate of Piedmont High School. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of California at Berkeley in 1982.

He then went on to receive his doctorate from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in 1989. In 2010, Stevens received a master's degree from the National War College.

David Levine, a professor of law at Hastings who taught Stevens, remembered him from his civil procedure class.

"He was sure of himself, but not cocky," Levine said. "He was diplomatic, if you will."

Levine, who has taught at Hastings since 1982, said Stevens had been interested in foreign service since he was beginning at law school.

"He was doing what he loved, and he stayed in it," Levine said. "He could have easily made more money elsewhere, but everything he did was for the United States."

Levine said Stevens' actions on Tuesday night were extremely heroic.

"He was devoted to the work he did, and always went above and beyond," Levine said. "He took risks; when he had a choice between something more dangerous or less dangerous, look what he did."

Dr. Ziad Abu Zeid, who treated Stevens, told The Associated Press that he died of asphyxiation, apparently from smoke, according to the Marin Independent Journal. Stevens was was bleeding in his stomach because of the asphyxiation but had no other injuries, he said.

A U.S. Foreign Service information management officer, Sean Smith, and two other Americans whose names were not released were also killed in the attack.

Despite Tuesday's attack, Clinton today insisted the relationship between Libya and the United States is still strong.

The attack occurred the same day as a protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Clinton said.
In light of the two events, Obama has directed his administration to increase security at all United States diplomatic posts throughout the world.

--Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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