J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya who was killed in an assault on a diplomatic mission there last week, was happy to gossip, but was revered for listening. A northern Californian with a toothy grin, he had a passion for the Arab world and its language, and he went out of his way to use it, whether with officials or shopkeepers, in an effort to show respect.
In his willingness to allow others to be heard, even when he had an important message to impart, Mr. Stevens was an unusual American diplomat, friends and colleagues say. He allowed himself to be governed by the habits, proprieties and slower pace of the Arab world.
With the State Department on high alert for security threats, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks, and many American diplomats consigned to embassies that resemble fortresses and armored motorcades that do not make unscheduled stops, Mr. Stevens plunged into Arab social life. He traded personal risk for personal contact.
His comfort with his environment and his distaste for displays of security, some quietly suggest, may have led to a touch of overconfidence that cost him his life. His lonely death in Benghazi, a city he knew well, along with those of three other Americans, came during a Libyan militia attack on the American diplomatic mission there, where his presence had not been advertised.
What the United States lost was not only one of its foremost Arabists, a man who built a bridge to the tribes and militias that toppled the Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. It also may be losing, in the unrest sweeping a conflict-prone crescent of Muslim countries from Pakistan to Sudan, a style of diplomacy already on the decline: the street-smart, low-key negotiator who gets things done by building personal relationships.
Mr. Stevens, 52, was known as Chris, but he often signed letters and e-mails to friends as Krees, the way many Arabs pronounced his name. His affection for Arab culture and street life, whether in Syria, Libya or the Palestinian territories, made him many friends and impressive networks of contacts.
Precisely what happened the night he was killed is unclear. But for an American ambassador to have so little security on the anniversary of Sept. 11, especially in a part of Libya known for its radicalism, is bound to raise questions, and in some sense, only adds to the irony of his death in a country he loved, and that for the most part, loved him back as an ally and a friend.