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Memories of a Good and Great Man: Father Pierre Ceyrac

4 May

Memories of a Great and Good Man: Father Pierre Ceyrac

By Nate Thayer

May 2013

Amongst my myriad of youthful memories, I recall with a satisfied sense of quiet joy having spent some weeks getting to know two delightful, charming, adventurous and beautiful young French gals in the remote town of Aranyaprathet, Thailand, a deceptively sleepy border hub that was the covert control room of a raging war that brought both unspeakable misery and promised a long demanded and denied justice to millions of Cambodians.

The two women and I recently reconnected and, like I suspect is true for many thousands of others whose heart and soul Pierre improved so profoundly, our conversation quickly focused on Father Pierre Ceyrac, a good and great man.

Father Pierre gave—and still gives—me faith and hope.  

While the two women, Olivia Guerbet and Isabelle Viellard, bring back very fond memories indeed, this story is about him—Father Pierre Ceyrac who died one year ago this month.

Father Pierre and Isabelle may 2012

Father Pierre and Isabelle may 2012


Hello Nate ! what a nice surprise to have your email!

I was so happy remembering all those borders events!

One year ago I had the chance to visit Father Pierre (Ceyrac) with Isabelle just before he died and all the border memories came back to our minds; Those years are forever written in our hearts.

I wanted also to thank you after all these years for all the dreams you gave me.

Now I’m married with 4 children but my life is still full of the joy and the richness of those years in Aranyaprathet.

Do you know that Jean and Stephanie got married?

I wanted to thank you and Gary (Knight) for your friendship. I remember how welcoming you were each time we met you at Ploen’s (restaurant). 

The first time you saw us , you thought we were from SIPA and Gary told us later  that you  were very surprised that they had sent 4 journalists to the border; Something must have been happening , but usually you were the first to know…and then you realized it was SIPAR; only French teachers…no scoops…

But you had always been very nice.

I remember that Father Pierre was very admiring of you, Nate.

Well happy birthday with some days late


Dear Olivia:

So good to hear from you and the fond memories you and Isabelle both bring back to me from those times in Aranyaprathet.

And thank you so very much for the photographs of Father Pierre.

He is one of my all time hero’s among men and I miss him terribly.

You probably didn’t know this, but he married my brother and his wife in the 1980’s.

Please do keep in touch, my friend, and so glad to hear you are doing well. It was also so very nice to hear from Isabelle as well. You both seem as beautiful and charming as when we met so long ago.

warm regards,




Dear Nate

How nice of you to answer me so quickly.

Here is a picture of him when he visited me in Grenoble where we live; he looks like when we met him, doesn’t he? 

I hope you didn’t have a too big shock with the previous pictures I send you. The three of us looks  much older….

Do you have a picture of the wedding of your brother! How incredible! Did Father Pierre go to the USA? I would LOVE if you could scan a picture of both of you at the wedding.

Do you still have contact with people from the border? I imagine you are still in touch with Gary?

Do you remember this conversation we had :

“How is your foot?”

“My foot is OK, I just got blown up on a landmine”

I know the incredible story of you meeting Pol Pot! I know how you had been all those year searching for answers to this so awful tragedy of genocide of Cambodia; It’s incredible that you could ask him exactly the questions everybody would have wished to ask him and hitler etc! (That is on purpose that I don’t use capital letters to write their names). 

I heard also the terrible story of betrayal about the news of his death. You must have felt so blessed! It was so unfair! So disgusting!

What have you been doing since then, where have you lived, USA ? Asia? Do you see your family or are you a lonesome cowboy  far away from home? 

Oh girls!! they ask so many questions, that ‘s life!! Because, in my case, memories give to my life so much energy. Now I’m happy but it’s not so exciting you know! By chance my children (Amelie 18 years old, Clément 17, Eloi 13 and Félicité 9) are nice and are happy but thank God I had a life before getting married!

I married in blue. I had already two children; Gary (Knight) and Fiona came for the wedding! How nice of them.

Hoping that I don’t tire you with my words and I wish you a beautiful day, wherever you are now.


Dear Olivia:

Thanks for the kind and thoughtful message. Pierre was one of God’s gifts and remains a big influence on me even after his death.

He married my brother and his wife (who both worked in Khao I Dang refugee camp) in the Philippines in 1986. Sadly, his wife died of cancer at 39 in 1997.

I never did meet anyone who didn’t love Father Pierre.

I used to go to his mass in Aran even though I am not Catholic!

I still have many contacts from the border days. I later moved to Phnom Penh and then later to Bangkok. I moved back to the U.S. in 2001 and still wrote and traveled, spent time in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, North Korea etc etc.

I moved back to Asia in 2010, but then back to where I am now in Washington D.C. last year. I write mainly about North Korea these days, but also quite a bit on Cambodia and other places.

And you and Isabelle and Pierre still all look as beautiful as the days I knew you.

I will try to find a picture of the wedding Pierre performed for my brother and send it to you.

I posted the two pictures you sent me on Facebook (where I stay in touch with many old border friends) and many of them commented on the picture.

My very best to both you and Isabelle.

with warm and fond wishes,



Are you up or not yet in bed? I’m sooooooooooo happy to read you already!

And the pictures already on face book!! I feel middle aged and you move at the speed of the light!!!

Well, I don’t have Facebook address. Is it possible to give you my daughter address, Amelie Guerbet so that I can see news about you?

Well all what you write touches me a lot. 

What a pity the story of your sister in law; When people love each other it’s so sad to see the end of their life on earth…….


I haven’t been to bed because I am working on Asian time on a North Korea story. Of course you can use your daughters address. Just go on FB and ‘friend’ me and you will see the pics and other stuff



I will write you more later but “à table!!!”‘

It’s time to go for lunch; You know in France we eat all together around the table..

Please accept Amelie’s contact so I can know more about you. Except if you judge that she’s too young.


Olivia's children and Pierre

Olivia’s children and Pierre


Eat well. I accepted Amelie’s FB request already. Talk soon. And tell Isabelle I posted her pic with Fr Pierre too



Thank you for accepting the facebook request; it is very kind of you. 

I will write you on email for it is easier.

Last year I suddenly decided to visit Father Pierre; I hadn’t seen him for 6 years.

He had always been writing to me, but the last years we just talked by phone.

I live in the mountains and now I’m not the adventurous girl I used to be. I don’t move much, visiting sometimes my family in Paris but that’s all.

But last year  suddenly when I heard that Father Pierre was really in a very bad, bad shape and in a quite desperate mood, I suddenly decided to go to India.

You are used to moving around the world, but, for me, it was so new, so wonderful to have this feeling of irresistible freedom and attraction.

His niece told me he would be quite alone during May and she was worried because it’s the really hot season then there.

The minute after, I called Isabelle and within five minutes she agreed and we both decided to go to India to see Father Ceyrac.

We arrived in Madras in May.

Well, it was a big surprise to find Father Ceyrac standing up in quite good shape. I was sure I would arrive to put a flower on his tomb.

What a surprise to find him having lunch in the dining room all well dressed and combed.

We had one marvelous week with him. We shared a lot. He was a real gourmet! And he appreciated chocolats saucisson, foie gras and Pinot des charentes.

He was always taking care of us. “Are you OK?” “It is not too hot for you?”

He was so nice, so tender.

When I left him it was quite hard because I knew it was for the last time. But we were so happy to leave him in such a good condition.

Back to France and one week later exactly I received a call from Sabelle telling me that Father Pierre had died during the night.

His last night he had some of the goodies we had brought: pâté and pineau.

Two friends kissed him goodnight.

They asked for a blessing.

During the night he stood up and had a little walk as he always had to pray as he had done throughout his life.

And in the morning they found him in his bed.

You cannot imagine how blessed I felt!!!

Even more because we knew he had finally finished his life “standing up” and he was not sad at all.

Sorry, but I could talk and talk and talk about him because he had such a great impact on my life.

He was like a fairy for me—you know the light by the sea that shows you the way. How do you say this in English?


Olivia and Pierre Madras, India May 2012

Olivia and Pierre Madras, India May 2012


What a beautiful story. I loved Pierre like perhaps I have loved no other. He gave me faith in man. Thanks so much for sharing. I would like to share your story on my FB page as there are many, many friends of mine who loved him like you and I did and would be very moved to hear your story. My FB page is not a public page–just for friends who I keep in touch with who have moved to different parts of the world, as happens in life. With your permission, I would like to share your story.

Even when I think of Pierre tears come to my eyes



Au cours de nos pérégrinations alors que je disais au Père Pierre à quel point il reflétait la lumière de Dieu il me répondit avec humilité : « On reflète tous la lumière de Dieu ».


Un autre jour il nous as redit comme il aurait pu faire davantage , comme il aurait faire davantage…


Il nous as aussi parlé de l’importance des jeunes qui sont « l’avenir du monde » « c’est important les jeunes , dis-leur de beaucoup étudier pour après aider les pauvres ;il faut beaucoup aimer et aider les pauvres » .

Il nous a parlé des couples et de l’attention et la gentillesse qu’il est important que les époux se témoignent et de l’importance de la prière. Il faut prier l’un pour l’autre 

As I was telling him how much, for me, he reflected the light of God and he answered: “We all reflect the light of God.”

He said how he could and he should have done more.

He told us the importance of young people who are the future of the world.

“Young people are really important people, tell them to study a lot in order to serve and help poor people.”

“Tell them that we have to love, and to help a lot, the poor people.

He told us about couples and “how attention and kindness are so important between lovers.”

And he told us “the importance of praying for each other”

Dear you, I am very sensitive to the fact that my words could touch your heart.

I tell you again how much Father Ceyrac was proud to know you! You were also his hero.

He loved to talk about this time when there had been shelling and landmines exploded and that you had gone back to carry somebody wounded, despite of the danger.

I’m sure he’s very happy that I tell you this and he sees now and that ‘s what put those tears in your eyes.

How often I did cry with him.

He has always been so faithful.

I knew he was there somewhere thinking of me.

Of course, like you, he knew so many people; but each person was important when he met them. We were all unique .

When he was talking to you, you were THE most important in the world.

And so also could feel all refugees who felt, each one, to be the favorite.

That ‘s the way I think God loves us but it’s really incredible to realize  with our little brains because there have been so many men.

But when you have had the chance to have met Father Pierre, you have felt this love, this love which tells you your value, even though you are a “pauv type”, as he used to say about himself;

About the mail I send you before ,I’m very touched that you could feel like telling the story on your FB. Do what you want but please correct the English so that it’s not too hard to understand.

Thank you for your care

Love (can I write that in English or is-it too strong for friendship?)



Thank you Olivia:

It is all so very touching and so easily understandable when talking about Pierre.

And of course you can write love in English or any other language. Everyone wishes more people would both be loving, say so and act so. Like Pierre did in his very special way

Much love to you as well my friend,



Susan Brownmiller and Why I am a Journalist

6 Mar

Susan Brownmiller and Why I am a Journalist

Ok, You want to know why I will never cease being a journalist?

 This whole kerfuffle today over a post on my blog, which had perhaps a 100+ followers this morning, about the state of journalism which has gone viral and attracted the attention and comments of hundreds of thousands of people by a few hours later, has drawn supportive comments from umpteen number of people. Plus a few nasty ones.

Among the gems was this comment from someone who asked to be a FB friend: “Nate, I’ve been reading about your Atlantic controversy all over the place– and I remember how generous you were to me in Phnom Penh in the 1990s, in a journalists’ bar, when you asked what I was doing in the city and I said “Doing a story on The Temples of Angkor” and you said–so spontaneously- “The guy you want to speak to is sitting over there…” You are such a great journalist, and the reason I subscribed to the Far Eastern Economic Review for so many years.”

Honestly, I don’t remember the encounter. But I do know, now, who this person is.

Susan Brownmiller is a US feminist, journalist, author, and activist best known for her 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, in which she argued that rape was “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” That book sent the then equivalent of cyberspace atwitter, prompting a slew of reactions and criticism which forced the debate of women being treated like chattel up for public debate. Angela Davis said her book was tantamount to an “unthinking partnership which borders on racism” and that was friendly fire.

Later, the New York Public Library selected Against Our Will as one of 100 most important books of the Twentieth Century.

Brownmiller spent four years investigating rape, from ancient criminal and civil law to the way rape was  reported in contemporary media,  literature, film, and popular music.

Brownmiller changed the course of the human debate on the rightful role of women in society, and pissed off far from a few people in the process.


Today she asked to be my friend on face book. And she sent me supportive comments for standing up to big media companies trying to fleece journalists to increase their profit margin.

She wrote in a post today I was tagged in on face book: “He was so generous to me in Phnom Penh– he was the dean of the journalists’ community. I was sitting with Kevin’s drunk journalist friends, who were telling their war stories, aggrandizing themselves, when this guy, Nate Thayer, the expert on Pol Pot, came over to our table and with his insatiable curiosity asked me what I was doing in the city–which none of Kevin’s friends had bothered to ask. And then he neatly pointed me in the right direction…giving my Angkor story for Travel&Leisure a depth it wouldn’t have had. I’m so glad his kerfuffle with the dummies at The Atlantic has gone viral.”

Susan wrote some time ago “My parents were so intense about…newspapers and the radio that I became very intense about these things too. My dad worked as a sales clerk in Macy’s and my mom worked as a secretary in the Empire State Building. I was lucky to go to Cornell University for a couple of years on scholarships. When I left school, I was determined to be a Broadway actress. This was, in my case, a very mistaken ambition. So I found a little tenement apartment in Manhattan, got jobs as a file clerk, did some waitressing, got fired a lot, and studied acting. Quite accidentally I started backing into editorial-type jobs for some confession magazines, and learned” how to be a journalist.

Journalism has permitted me to be in the mix of people like Susan Brownmiller—whose unyielding, curmudgeonly refusal to accept what is unacceptable, has directly contributed to making this a better world for uncountable millions.

Thank you Susan.

You, and that, is why I will die being a journalist.

The Atlantic feels the heat from journalism for no pay business model: “Our Freelance Rates Vary” says Editor James Bennet

5 Mar

The Atlantic responds to my blog post that has gone viral with more than 100,000 viewers to this blog since this morning, and thousands of retweets, reblogs, online discussions, and news articles from a global community concerned about the critically wounded state of professional journalism. I will be writing more on this topic in the near future once I wrap my head around why a story of an email exchange between a major news organization seeking to commission my professional services with the condition that they don’t contribute to paying my rent, putting food in my stomach, or keeping me clothed to protect me from the elements, that took fifteen minutes to write and never crossed my mind would hit a nerve with tens of thousands globally garnering more attention than any story since I found Pol Pot in the jungles of Cambodia. There is a message in there somewhere.

From James Bennet, editor in chief of The Atlantic

Atlantic staff journalists write most of the stories on our sites. When we publish original, reported work by freelancers, we pay them. Our freelance rates vary, depending on the kind of work involved. We do publish some unpaid pieces, typically analysis or commentary by non-journalists, if the work meets our standards and if, of course, the writer sees value in publishing with us. We don’t force anyone to contribute to us, and we are extremely grateful to the wonderful writers who do.

The case involving Nate Thayer is unusual. We did not ask him to report and write an original piece for us, but we did ask if he’d be interested in posting a condensed version of an article he had already published elsewhere, which we would have done with full credit to the original publisher. We rarely do this outside our established partnerships, but we were enthusiastic about bringing Thayer’s work to a larger audience – an outcome, I guess, we have now, backhandedly, achieved. We’re sorry we offended him.

Media Relations Contact:
Natalie Raabe
The Atlantic
(202) 266-7533

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013

4 Mar

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013

Here is an exchange between the Global Editor of the Atlantic Magazine and myself this afternoon attempting to solicit my professional services for an article they sought to publish after reading my story “25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip comes after 25 years of basketball diplomacy between U.S. and North Korea”   here at

From the Atlantic Magazine:

On Mar 4, 2013 3:27 PM, “olga khazan” <> wrote:

Hi there — I’m the global editor for the Atlantic, and I’m trying to reach Nate Thayer to see if he’d be interested in repurposing his recent basketball diplomacy post on our site.

Could someone connect me with him, please?

Olga Khazan

 From the head of NK News, who originally published the piece this morning:

Hi that piece is copy right to NK News, so please engage us mutually.
Thanks, tad

From the Atlantic:

Sure. Thanks Nate and Tad…I was just wondering if you’d be interested in adapting a version of that for the Atlantic. Let me know if you’d be interested.



From me:

Hi Olga:

Give me a shout at 443 205 9162 in D.C. and I’d be delighted to see whether we can work something out.


Nate Thayer

From the Atlantic:

Sure, I’ll call you in a few minutes.

After a brief phone call where no specifics were really discussed, and she requested I email her:

Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball  diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.


Nate Thayer

From the Atlantic:

Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. Continue reading

An Airplane From New York to Tokyo With a Pit Stop In Heaven

19 Jan

An Airplane From New York to Tokyo With a Pit Stop In Heaven

It was another long 16 hour non-stop transcontinental flight from the New York to Japan, and a three hour layover there before boarding another 6 hour flight to Bangkok. I was, as always traveling alone. And it promised to be interminably boring.

I always wait to near boarding time and request a seat in the very back middle row of four seats often left free by airline check-in personnel where if one is lucky you might find yourself with a row all to yourself and can raise the armrests and stretch out and sleep. I was lucky that night and got such a seat, but one never knew who might end up sharing your  row once boarding is complete. I settled in prior to take-off as the plane continued to board new passengers taking their assigned seats. I eyed each one headed towards me hoping they would take a seat prior to reaching the last row I was in.

Rolling a carry-on bag behind her, I spotted a very attractive woman walking towards me in her late 30’s, raven hair framing high cheekbones, full lips, and a smart form fitting black above the knee dress which highlighted a pair of strong thin legs that were those of an artist’s dream. She was checking her boarding card and looking at the row numbers as she made her way to my row, gave me a wide smile, and said ” I am sorry to ruin your privacy but I am seated next to you.”

“Oh no apologies, please. There is plenty of room. We have four seats all to ourselves,” I half fibbed, not sure whether to be pleased or not. She sat down in the middle leaving a seat between us.

Soon the plane taxied and took off, the loud hum of the engines made small talk difficult. We both exchanged pleasantries and settled into reading our books, newspapers, or computers we had with us. Drinks were served, meals arrived, and movies started all designed to distract from the monotony of a seemingly endless flight.

We would lean over and talk, offering short biographies of ourselves and our travel plans. I was returning to Bangkok and she was on her way to Japan on business. Both of us were single and Americans and both had made this plane trip too many times to count. The conversation was pleasant and easy and friendly and her smile and ease were enchanting.

Within a couple of hours the plane lights dimmed and people began to doze, although a steady traffic of passengers passed by us to the restrooms and the flight attendants came and went continuously. We fell into conversation passing the time, but it was hard to hear over the drone of the engines.

“Do you mind if I move to the seat next to you?’, she said,” It is hard to carry on a conversation form this far.”

“Please, i would be delighted, ” I said, and she raised the armrest and slid over next to me, holding my arm to assist her moving, my eyes moving from her lovely smile to her endless enticing legs, her short dress hiking up as she slide in next to me.

” Ah, this is much better. I can hear you!”, she whispered near my ear and smiled.

We laughed and chatted and told each other random stories as the time passed. The plane grew quieter as people dozed. The flight attendants came by and we asked for another round of drinks, both ordering a double vodka. The air-condition was quite chilly, we both agreed, and unwrapped the blankets provided and put them around our laps, sharing the two blankets. It was an easy relaxed conversation and we both fell into periods of the silence of our own thoughts. She began to doze and her head fell nuzzled on my shoulder in her dream state as if it belonged there. I tucked the blanket around her and let her rest and continued to read. She would adjust herself trying to be comfortable and her armed draped over my lap as her head felt like a perfect nook to fit in the cranny of my neck and shoulder. It was if it had always belonged there.

She woke briefly, looked up at me as if assessing approval. I smiled.

“You look very relaxed,” I said.

” I am”, she smiled and snuggled closer wrapping her arm more firmly around my waist, her elbow resting on my lap with the ease of a familiar lover. It was as if we had known each other before. But in fact just two people bypassing the awkwardness of first meetings and falling into  a comfort zone usually reserved for  those who had long before allowed themselves to be vulnerable to another. I put down my book and closed my eyes and drifted, with her, into slumber.

I was dreaming delicious feelings of arousal when I slipped back into consciousness and felt her hand brushing softly over my light khaki pants and looked down as she stared up at my eyes.

” Good morning”, she said with a mischievous smile.”I woke up and my hand felt you needed my attention. You were smiling in your sleep.” I shuddered and smiled……..

She responded with a firmer stroke. “Oh my, that feels so nice,” I said and moved my head to kiss her lightly on her lips. She pressed her mouth hard against me and let out a quiet moan. I reached down under her blanket and moved my hand up her firm thighs hiking her dress and she responded with approval by parting her legs further and moaning, and she rose to greet my touch with desire.

As I touched her she kissed me harder and. It was all so natural and sweet. No awkwardness or embarrassment as we let ourselves both revel in the pleasure we  were exchanging.

” God, that feels so nice,” she whispered softly.

“Oh yes, please don’t stop,” I said.

We bucked and grunted and moaned softly in muted approval, both gripped in lust and pleasure in synch with each other as our eyes locked with expressions contorted in pleasure.

I looked over and saw a blonde middle age flight attendant sitting across from us watching and she gave an approving smile, fixated on us. I was too distracted to care but appreciated she had no objection.

My new found lover in the air kissed me hard as she let herself lose herself to  pleasure moaning softly. Her freedom to let her desires go free made mine unleash with natural ease.

Panting,  her head rested on my shoulder and neck, our hands held each other exchanging sighs.

Breathing hard, we both said nothing for moments.

She looked up and smiled, kissed me, and said: “Thank You. What a wonderful travelling companion you are.”

“God, I feel like we are flying through the heavens. You are a gem, baby. Come rest with me.”

We wrapped our arms around each other and slept until woken for breakfast by the flight crew. The last few hours of the flight were one’s of easy banter, and smiles, and laughter, punctuated by random kisses and affection.

We deplaned in Tokyo, exchanged contacts, and kissed goodbye. I have never heard from her since. But I will always remember that flight free of the  restraints that limit us from pursuing pleasure when two people have the opportunity to seek, give, and receive it in such gentle ease.



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