In Memoriam Rob Swartbol (1964-2021)

In the night of 16 September Rob Swartbol passed away. He died peacefully in his sleep, with his family at his bedside. It is impossible for us to imagine their grief, knowing how much Rob meant to them.

Rob Swartbol has meant a lot to so many people and to so many organizations. Not in the least to his colleagues at BZ, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is here that Rob built a stellar career in positions like political assistant to Minister Hans van Mierlo, ambassador to Slovakia and director-general for International Cooperation. To us, the staff of the Netherlands Embassy in Jakarta – both expats and local Indonesian staff – his passing means the passing of our own beloved and well respected former ambassador and dear friend.

In 2015, Rob came to Jakarta as the new Dutch ambassador, with one of his explicit tasks to reform the embassy and its internal culture. And that is what he did. Not because he was requested to do so, but because of the man he was. He believed in giving every colleague his or her rightful, respected place. Diversity came to Rob naturally. The walls of the separate offices in the embassy building were torn down, and flexible, open work spaces were created, flexible working spots for everyone, including the ambassador himself. From the start, Rob’s working place was among the staff, as head of the whole crew – certainly – but also as one of them. The staff became a team, inspired in their work and in their behavior by Rob. He gave confidence where we would not expect it. And yes, he sang with us. Typically, his favorite song was Louis Amstrong’s What a Wonderful World, which clearly fitted his fine deep voice.

But his job was not limited  to leading the embassy in such an exceptional way – his impact was felt well beyond the walls of the embassy. Together with the partner of his life, Jacqueline, he left a clear mark within a much broader circle, foremost here in Jakarta, but definitely also in other parts of Indonesia. Rob and Jacqueline were well known and very popular in Jakarta society, among Indonesians of all walks of life, and in the Dutch community. Their residence at Jalan Diponegoro was famously called the ‘Nederlandse Herberg’ (Dutch Inn) because of their hospitality. Even with their busy daily schedule, Rob and Jacqueline would always make time for you.

When they left Jakarta in 2019 for Rob’s new assignment as ambassador to Russia, we all felt it as a great loss, even though we knew it was inevitable. When the news broke that Rob had to quit his job in Moscow because of a very serious disease, we could only hope for a miracle. This miracle did not happen. So sad for everybody. The end came far too soon. His life was too short, but well lived, that was his greatness. We are all thankful for that.

We hope Jacqueline, the children and Rob’s parents will find the strength they need to accept this too big a loss. Maybe it is of some consolation if they know that the entire staff of the embassy in Jakarta grieves with them. As we had the privilege to work with him and to get to know Rob well, we will continue to carry him in our hearts.

The staff of the Netherlands Embassy in Jakarta