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Former Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony deBrum Dies


Now we're going to remember a man who fought for the survival of his nation, the Marshall Islands.


TONY DEBRUM: The Marshall Islands cover an area of approximately a million square miles of ocean. Many people call us a small island state. I prefer to be called a large ocean state.

SHAPIRO: I met Tony deBrum at the Paris climate summit in late 2015. He was then foreign minister for the Marshall Islands, a country that could disappear if sea levels continue to rise. DeBrum wore a bright, red scarf over his dark suit. His skin had the wear of a man who spent much of his life in the sun. In Paris, he fought for an agreement limiting carbon emissions. He said the outcome could determine whether his grandchildren could remain on the islands he called home.


DEBRUM: I'm hoping that what I do here is going to result in them not having to move anywhere. That's the whole purpose of the exercise.

SHAPIRO: Do they ask you, Grandpa?

DEBRUM: Yes, they do. I Skyped with them last night. Yeah, how's it going? Do we have to move anywhere?

SHAPIRO: And what do you say?

DEBRUM: I said, no, not yet.

SHAPIRO: In the day we spent together, deBrum bounced from a breakfast meeting with Al Gore to the launch of a new Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor called Save Our Swirled.


DEBRUM: It's a scoop of (singing) swirls, swirls, swirls, scoop of swirls.

SHAPIRO: I don't know that song.

DEBRUM: You know "Duke Of Earl?"

SHAPIRO: Oh, "Duke Of Earl." Yeah, yeah.

DEBRUM: Scoop of swirl.

SHAPIRO: DeBrum was a happy warrior. And climate was not his only battle. Last year, Tony deBrum was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work against nuclear proliferation. That cause was important to him since he saw nuclear weapons tested on the Marshall Islands as a child in the 1940s. Tony deBrum died early today at his home there on the island of Majuro, surrounded by his family. He was 72 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF RRAREBEAR SONG, "MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.