Goodbye, Steve Anderson

This morning, after I wrote my silly blog post about and not about my eye, I had a breakfast of avocado on a toasted English muffin, alongside a slice of Canadian bacon. And then I went back to my computer. While perusing an online newspaper I often visit, I learned that Steve Anderson died a week ago today in an automobile accident. I communicated with Steve only once, via email, but that single interaction left a mark on me. I wrote a message to him, asking him to tell me a little about his life as an American who had moved to Chile. My request was absurd. How does one tell a stranger about “life as an American who had moved to Chile?” Frankly, I did not expect a reply. I knew only that he was associated with The Santiago Times, an English-language newspaper in Chile and that I learned quite a bit about Chile by reading that paper. I was curious. At the time, I was indulging myself in a fantasy involving a move outside the United States, a life-changing possibility that might, I thought, help me learn who I was.

Steve’s reply, though not lengthy, suggested to me that he was generous with his time and willing to answer silly questions posed by a starry-eyed middle-aged man pushing fifty-five. The essence of his response was that Santiago has a good-sized population of American ex-pats who would be welcoming and willing to share what they’d learned. The best way to learn about life as an American in Chile, he suggested, would be to visit Chile and talk to Americans who live there. He encouraged me to visit. He didn’t say it in so many words, but in his response I could tell he absolutely loved Chile.

Steve Anderson founded The Santiago Times in 1991. This morning, I learned from one of the articles about him that he was from Fayetteville, Arkansas. His career in the U.S. included the practice of law among various other roles. In Chile, in addition to publishing the online paper, he was an environmental activist.  Reading the paper on a fairly regular basis over the years kept me modestly informed about issues about which I rarely if ever read in U.S. media. It was in The Santiago Times that I followed Michelle Bachelet’s two terms as Chile’s president. And it was in the paper that I learned about and became concerned about Chile’s socialist-leaning future under Sebastián Piñera, the recently-installed right-wing president of the country. I learned quite some time ago about the Alto Maipo Hydroelectric Project and the damage to Chile’s environment the project could cause.

I’m not sure of it, but I think The Santiago Times is where I came across a house for sale on Chile’s mid-Pacific coast, a house I seriously wanted to buy. It was an architectural wonder with very modern design strongly influenced by the mid-century modern architecture I’ve come to love. I suspect my desire for that house, set high on a cliff overlooking the Pacific in rural Chile, was sparked in part by reading about Chile in Steve’s paper. My wife, being far more practical than I, convinced me that buying a house, sight-unseen, in a country I’ve never visited, would have been insane.

I read about student protests and university curricula in Steve’s paper. I read about all facets of life in Chile and I came to realize that, at least for educated Chileans in the larger cities, life is good. But I learned, too, that Chilean peasants and farmers and people who have no voice to oppose corporations taking their land and their livelihoods, life can be very, very hard.

Over the years, I’ve read pieces by many young journalists who, as they left the paper to go on to other career opportunities, thanked Steve for the opportunities he gave them by hiring them to work for The Santiago Times.  Just today, as I read some comments from people who worked for him, it was evident that Steve fueled journalism world-wide.

I wish I’d taken Steve up on his suggestion that I visit Chile to see what it was like as an American in that country. I’m confident that he would have welcomed me to his office and even his home in rural Chile south of Santiago.  It’s my understanding that Steve was no longer actively engaged in managing the paper, so I expect it will continue to be published even after his death. I will be among the people who will continue to read it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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