Gérard Starck: the end of a dream

Published: 15 July 2003 0:00 CET

Ilmira Gafiatullina in Almaty

A fatal road accident on a winding, slippery road through the high Chuchkhan mountain pass, in southern Kyrgystan, brought a brutal end to the dream of French Red Cross volunteer Gérard Starck to symbolically link all the world’s national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

At around 17:00 local time on July 12, Gérard’s motorbike collided head on with a car in heavy rain. He was taken to hospital in a coma and died two hours later.

The Federation’s goodwill ambassador was en route to the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent. The Kyrgyz police are investigating the accident. Gérard’s body is now in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and will be repatriated to France in the coming days.

The 57-year-old former racing car driver and sports journalist had begun his world tour with an official send-off from the International Federation secretariat in Geneva on October 9, 1997. His aim was to promote the humanitarian mission of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world and the commitment of their volunteers.

At the time of his death, he had completed visits to 148 National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies on the five continents, clocking up some 200,000 km on his motorbike. At each stop, he handed over a red ribbon and a gift from the previous National Society he had visited and accepted one, to be given to the next one on his itinerary.

In each country, his visit was also an opportunity for the National Society to convene the press and promote its programmes and activities.

Gérard’s unfailing enthusiasm and determination allowed him to overcome the many obstacles he encountered on his world tour, such as finding sponsors and arranging complicated visa and logistical requirements.

Gérard had some 60 accidents on his six-year odyssey, sustaining serious injuries in Botswana when a goat jumped out in front of his motorbike. After crashing into the animal, he was knocked off the bike and slid along the road for fifty metres. He managed to get back on the bike and drive to Botswana Red Cross, which fortunately was only five minutes away.

Everyone gasped as they saw a blood-spattered Gérard limp into their offices. He was taken to hospital, bandaged up, and the next day, he was back on the road.

On a happier note, his world travels also brought him a wife. In 1999, while in Chile, he met Eulalie, a Frenchwoman who also hails from the south-western town of Pau. They were married in Thailand on February 14 last year.

Three days before his death, he met the president of the Red Crescent Society of Kazakhstan, Dr. Yerkebek Argymbaev, who said: “He shared with us his tireless energy and unquenchable enthusiasm. He wanted to show the world the uniqueness of the Red Cross Red Crescent network that links together 179 National Societies, and he fulfilled his mission.”

His last words to the staff in the Federation’s Almaty delegation on July 9 were “See you in Geneva, in November”. The Federation’s General Assembly, which brings together all Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies every two years, will be held in Geneva then, as well as the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which groups all components of the Movement, as well as representatives from States signatories to the Geneva Conventions.

Gérard had intended to thank all the people who had welcomed him so warmly over the past six years and to greet participants at the International Conference.

Markku Niskala, the International Federation’s acting secretary general, said: “We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family and to colleagues in the French Red Cross on their loss. We are sorry that Gérard will not be with us as he had planned at the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November when he hoped to share with us his experiences and to meet up with many of the people he had met on his travels.”

Before leaving Almaty, he packed his travel notebooks carefully and said: “The world is much better than it appears on TV screens. I haven’t seen any aggression, I met warm-hearted people only and I will write a book about the world that is worth seeing with your own eyes.”