Friday, January 19, 2007

Talk Radio is Link in the Lives of Two Women

Earlier this month we were shocked to learn that Maria Leavey had died suddenly in her home in Arlington, VA. Maria had worked tirelessly as Democratic party activist and was involved in the early days of Democracy Radio when they were developing the Ed Schultz Show and helping to organize a liberal talk radio network that eventually came to be known as Air America Radio.

Now we learn of the tragic death of Andrea Parhamovich, who died earlier this week in Iraq when insurgents ambushed a convoy she riding in after leaving the headquarters of Sunni political party, where she had been teaching a class on democracy. Before going to Iraq, Andrea worked in the public relations department at AAR. Andrea’s job there may have had some influence on her decision to go to Iraq.

About fifteen months ago she met Michael Hastings, a Newsweek reporter when she was on a PR assignment with the Jerry Springer show. As her relationship with Hastings developed she decided to take a job with the National Democratic Institute and join up with Hastings who was on assignment in Iraq. The NDI is a not-for-profit organization based in Washington that has worked in Iraq since 2003.

A description of Parhamovich first meeting with Hastings was described in an article in yesterday's LA Times.

"It was the most boring Jerry Springer interview in history," Hastings recalled. But an e-mail exchange about the story led to that first date — diner milkshakes. "I considered it a date; she considered it just business," said Hastings, who at the time was about to leave for Iraq for the first time. When he mentioned his impending trip to the war-torn country, she was "totally unimpressed by it, and mocked me."

According to Jamie Horn, AAR’s public relations director (pictured with Parhamovich. Parhamovich is on the left) ‘working for a liberal radio network wasn't enough," for the idealistic Ohio native. "She had to go to the heart of the war and create change and understanding. She was so obstinate in her efforts to create change. Nothing could stop her."

Details of the tragic events that resulted the Parhamovich’s death along with death of three of her body guards was described in an article in yesterday's edition of New York Times.

An American woman who was killed here on Wednesday had just left the headquarters of a prominent Sunni political party, where she had been teaching a class on democracy, when her convoy of vehicles was ambushed by gunmen.

Members of the Iraqi Islamic Party said the American woman — Andrea Parhamovich, 28, of Perry, Ohio —left the party’s fortified compound in western Baghdad around 4 p.m. in a three-vehicle convoy, headed east toward the Green Zone, when she and her armed guards came under attack from all sides. Les Campbell, Middle East and North Africa director for the National Democratic Institute, which hired Ms. Parhamovich about three months ago, said a fierce firefight ensued.

Guards tried to escape, fought back, and then called for reinforcements from other private security contractors. The attackers — perhaps as many as 30, Mr. Campbell said, according to witness accounts reaching him — used heavy weapons, possibly including grenades. He said they destroyed the vehicle that Ms. Parhamovich was in, killing three of her armed guards, and then melted away into the neighborhood.

Saleem Abdullah, a senior member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said that Ms. Parhamovich’s group may have been chosen as targets when they first arrived at the party’s compound.

An AP story described the how idealism led Parhamovich on a trail that ended so violently in Iraq.

When Andrea Parhamovich was a high school freshman, she made it clear she wanted to change the world.
Years later, she left to do just that, taking a job with an organization that promotes democracy in Iraq.
This week, the 28-year-old Ohio native died there when a convoy of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute was attacked.

On Thursday, an al-Qaida-linked coalition of Iraqi Sunni insurgents claimed responsibility. "She definitely had a personality that she was going to make a difference in people's lives," said Pat Giannell, a world history teacher at Perry High School, from which Parhamovich graduated in 1996. "Obviously, that's what she was doing in Iraq." Parhamovich, a graduate of Marietta College in southeast Ohio, had been working with NDI in Baghdad since late 2006.

She helped Iraqi political parties reach out to voters. She was helping "build the kind of national level political institutions that can help bridge the sectarian divide and improve Iraqi lives," NDI said. Giannell kept in touch with Parhamovich after she graduated and last spoke to her about a year ago when she dropped by the school for a visit.

She was always globally minded as a student, he said, and he wasn't surprised that her ambition carried her to Iraq. "For her to die like that is not imaginable because she was the opposite of that type of lifestyle. She was a peaceful person," he said. Parhamovich graduated in 2000 with a degree in advertising and public relations with a minor in journalism, said Tom Perry, spokesman for Marietta College in central Ohio.

While at the college, she worked in the liberal arts school's media relations office and was part of the campus television and radio station. "We saw what an excellent person she was, and she obviously had a passion for something and wanted to go there and be a part of it," Perry said. "We're proud she wanted to do this. It shows it's not just the soldiers who are in harm's way." In a statement, Parhamovich's family said she was a "confident, motivated, intelligent and loving young woman ... who also put those around her first."

Parhamovich and Leavey probably didn't know each other. However, they had two things in common -- Passionate commitments to activism and roles in the start up of liberal talk radio. And while their roles in talk radio were small, we will always remember the contributions that they made. We will miss both you.

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