Pete Steffens who died on Vancouver Island on 23rd August 2012, was a true friend and comrade to all who knew him, as well as being an unwavering opponent of greed, cruelty and dictatorship, especially in those forms that hide behind the covers of freedom and democracy.
Paul Mayne, who served as Treasurer at the History Society of Sunderland, where Pete’s twinkling eyes helped to light up so many lives, wrote to me that his main memory, apart from his good humour, was of Pete’s optimism and unwavering sense that things could be improved and the world made a better place. His contributions to debate at “HISS” in the city where he had taken up temporary residence with his wife, Valerie Alia, were always subtle and interesting. His lecture to the society on his journey through Iraq gave real insight into the country, and his comment on the cruelty that he saw there, and his inescapable feeling that Sadam Hussain had played a crucial role in worsening it, lingered on very strongly.
Because he was more than an armchair political pundit, Pete made sure that he was in Sunderland Market Place whenever HISS members and others were out campaigning against the Bush and Blair invasion. Despite being well into his seventies and not in the best of health, he never faltered in his opposition to what he knew was a hypocritical enterprise that could only have evil consequences. His very presence was a great encouragement to younger people and let them know that age need not weary our radicalism, nor condemn us to despair or cynicism. Pete conveyed the feeling that he could be at home almost anywhere.
Wherever Pete Steffens went, he left waves of good feeling in his wake. He was not just an erudite and fluent public speaker, deep intellectual, and political activist, but a good companion, who kept in touch with those he had left behind in the North East. Because, he had ceased to send his witty comments on life and reflections on the news to the mates he had made, we realised that he could not have much time left, but his death still came as a blow to those who were wondering how he was. We all feel sad that we will not be able to meet him and his welcoming smile in some Nanaimo coffee bar, catch up with his reflections on international politics, and gain insight into the local scene.
Pete saw much and made many friends. As one of those who had the privilege of being able to call him a firm friend in the evening of his long life, I can only regret that he is no longer around to sit down to eat, drink and chat, and set aside my attempts to pay with a smile and the sweep of his generous hand.
This appreciation was first published in North East History Volume 44, 2013
See also Matthew Anderson’s appreciation of Pete on the Western Washington University website: https://westerntoday.wwu.edu/news/in-memoriam-pete-steffens-1924-2012