The former staff of Radio Free Iraq, and the entire RFE/RL community, were saddened to learn of the recent passing of Ambassador David Newton, who served as the first director of the service from 1998 until 2004.
Prior to his work at RFE/RL, Ambassador Newton spent more than three and a half decades in the U.S. diplomatic service mostly involved with the Middle East, and served as ambassador to Yemen (1994-97) and ambassador to Iraq (1984-88). Newton was well-known among those who study the Arab world, for his deep knowledge of the history and culture of the Middle East and ability to apply those skills to explain the modern politics of ancient countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, which in recent years had become hotbeds of violence and religious extremism.
The members of the service remember Newton as a courteous and thoughtful gentleman who was able to lead the team from one achievement to another. I happened to work closely with him at Radio Free Iraq in the first half of 2004, when it was announced that the service would be closed. Mr. Newton disagreed with that idea, and subsequent events have proven that his objections had a lot of ground. He offered the RFI team important insights that turned out to be very valuable later, as Radio Free Iraq continued to operate for more than a decade after his departure [in 2015, Radio Free Iraq was merged with MBN's Radio Sawa Iraq-eds.]. All that time, the team remained in touch with Newton, who remained a great resource and friend. He supported RFI not only by praising the team's efforts, but also by sharing his knowledge and expertise, and periodically engaging with RFI’s audience as an expert.
Our former RFI colleagues, who moved to the Washington, DC area to work with Radio Sawa, shared the sad news with us and attended David Newton’s memorial service. Their sorrow was mixed with happy memories of working side-by-side of Ambassador Newton, as his family mentioned cordially the years of his tenure in Prague, and even displayed some photos as a memento of that period.
David Newton was 81 years old and is survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter.