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Settje prepares to wave Bermuda goodbye

Bob Settje is in his final days of service in Bermuda (Photo by Akil Simmons)

US Consul General Bob Settje finishes his tour of duty next week and will depart Bermuda on Friday.

He arrived on the Island in August 2012 to take up his role. The career diplomat had been the Regional Consular Officer for embassies and consulates in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and Europe before moving here.

Mr Settje told The Royal Gazette yesterday that he would announce his replacement on Wednesday, when he and his wife Melanie Settje will host their annual Independence Day celebration. The event is being held early because of their departure.

Mr Settje explained that he had been appointed the Consular Section Chief in Hong Kong, leading the division of the Consulate which is responsible for services to US citizens, including providing assistance to Americans in crisis or emergencies.

He described his new post as the third level down from an ambassadorial post.

“I will have more resources and more staff than I do here. Hong Kong is very important to the United States and most of the world commercially.

“There are a lot of connections between Bermuda and Hong Kong. We hope to see Bermuda friends there.”

Mr Settje will take up the post in early September, after eight weeks of training in Washington in preparation for his new role, and after he and Mrs Settje have had a vacation. The couple will spend five weeks of leave travelling through the western US.

Hong Kong will be his final tour. Mr Settje said: “I am a foreign service officer, so I am used to moving every two or three years. After two or three years, you begin to get itchy feet — it is part of our culture. While I do have itchy feet, I will miss Bermuda.

“There are several reasons. It is my first, and likely my only time, where I have been the principal representative of my country to another country. It has been a great privilege to manage my own operation.

“Another aspect is really local — I hadn’t been here very long when I realised how much I loved Bermuda and Bermudians. My wife and my family have been treated with such incredible kindness and generosity, and from all angles: rich and poor, black and white, inside and outside government, and people who didn’t know I was the US Consul General.

“It speaks very highly of Bermuda and Bermudians — it’s something I will always cherish. That is my highlight, having led my own mission and met the wonderful residents of Bermuda.”

There have been other positive aspects to his tour here.

“Working on issues with the Government in Bermuda, getting to know the citizens of Bermuda, attending events, speaking engagements, and even parties,” he said. “Just yesterday I went to Westgate Correctional Facility in Dockyard and met with a group of prisoners for about an hour to talk about the [US] stop list.”

He described that visit one of the highlights of his time here, adding: “It gave me hope with these men, that when they get out they will contribute to society.

“It was a privilege to be among them.”

Mr Settje is well known for his accessible approach.

He said: “My wife Melanie and I are down-to-earth folk.

“We’re from South Dakota; I’m from a tiny town and she grew up on a farm. We try to be approachable, real people.

“I insist that people refer to me as Bob. It tears down that barrier.”

There have been no serious low points during his time at the helm of the American Consulate.

“We haven’t run into any type of real problems. I fear everyone will remember me for the greaseballs,” he said, referring to a March 2014 US Consulate Security message for US citizens warning of contaminated beaches.

There was uproar after the message, as Government scrambled to rectify the situation.

“I would hope to be remembered for other things, such as the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights programme which really engaged the community,” Mr Settje said. “And working with the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation in an effort to help young men and women to start their own businesses and contribute to the economy.”

The Consulate General and the Human Rights Commission brought two American LGBT speakers and rights advocates to take part in a three-day LGBT programme to mark Pride Month a year ago.

The US Consulate was also active in encouraging Bermudians to attend university in the United States.

“While many people do study in the US, there are not as many as you would expect,” Mr Settje said. “I would like to increase that number.

“As a result, the Education USA Reference Centre at the Counselling and Career Centre was established at the Bermuda College in March.”

As he prepares to leave the Island, Mr Settje feels that relations between Bermuda and the US remain strong — a strength that goes back centuries — and he talked about some of the historical links between the countries.

“I love taking people to the Sea Venture monument to look at the names,” he said.

“Americans always recognise the Sea Venture’s captain, Christopher Newport — the Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, is named after him.

“And John Rolfe, who is famous for marrying Pocahontas.”

He pointed out that this year was the 200th anniversary of the death of Midshipman Dale, who is buried in Bermuda, and was the last man to be killed in combat between the US and England.

It is also the 20th anniversary of the departure of the US military from the Island.

“Time marches on but many connections remain,” he said.