In Memorium: AR Ramly 1927-2017

Tributes paid to former Indonesian Ambassador to the US and President of Pertamina

By Wayne Forrest, President of American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Abdul Rachman Ramly, a great friend of the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (AICC) and the United States, passed away in Jakarta on July 29. Modest, with a very wry sense of humor, “Ram” had many close connections with our members from his time in the US as Consul General in NY, his tenure as President of Pertamina, and when he was Indonesia's Ambassador in Washington, DC (1988-1993).

A former general trained at Fort Benning, Ramly was part of an Acehnese contingent that included Bustanil Arifin, who worked closely with President Suharto, ran state enterprises, but did not always agree with his policies. Ramly was basically his own man and many times he would pass along recommendations to his President that he did not always want to hear. I don't think there has been an Ambassador for whom Americans had greater affection that Ram. I last saw him two years ago in Jakarta. He still had his rather stern countenance but as always, a twinkle in his eye.

I didn't know what to expect when I first encountered him after McCormick Spice had informed me that there was an attempt to corner the cinnamon market in 1989. He had only recently taken up his post as Ambassador to the US. At a time when the Indonesian government was deregulating and eliminating monopolies McCormick had received telexes from a company that claimed to be the sole exporter for the spice. McCormick didn't know the company, suspected a large Dutch processor was behind them, and knew they would have a major issue with FDA clearances.

I nervously contacted Ambassador Ramly about the potential problem but in typical AICC fashion suggested this be worked on "behind the scenes". Ramly agreed immediately and offered to come to New York. A meeting was swiftly arranged under our auspices with McCormick and the American Spice Trade Association. Ramly sat down and was shown the original telexes announcing the sole exporter, looked up and said to those gathered:

“This is no good and probably was done without central government knowledge. It is not in line with our current policy. I will tell President Suharto this cannot be allowed to continue.” Things soon returned to normal. Ram had clout. 

Another time Ralph Lauren informed AICC that an Indonesian company was using their Polo trademark without their consent. In typical Ramly fashion he advised that rather than seeking redress through an expensive court process, a more efficient solution would be for Lauren to simply buy the Indonesian company at a much lower cost, which is exactly what they did.  

My favorite Ramly story involved Sports Illustrated. One morning in 1990 I received a call from Julie Campbell, the editor of their famous swimsuit issue. She was having difficulty obtaining a shooting permit and customs waivers for the several hundred swimsuits that SI would be bringing to Bali for the coming year's photo shoot. If these could not be obtained in a month Julie would be forced to shoot in a different location. I knew the only person who could solve this quickly, if he could be convinced, was Amb.  Ramly.

Armed with several back issues Julie had messengered to my office, I hustled to the Indonesian Embassy in DC. I showed them to Ramly and explained that Indonesia (Bali) would be receiving 30 pages of free promotion in one of the largest circulating magazines in the world: SI's annual swimsuit issue. As he flipped through the pages of the previous year's issue, what some would view as a puzzled look fell across his face. However, this was how he looked when he was thinking hard. With only the hint of a smile he then said matter of factly, “Well, you know Ginanjar, (The Coordinating Economic Minister, who often acted as Suharto's “right arm”) is also the Chief Commissioner of the Indonesian Swimming Association."

A few days later everything was arranged. SI would have access to their chosen Bali shooting locations and they could bring in all the swimsuits they wanted. The only caveats were they had to donate the suits after the shoot and use a handful of Indonesian models whose pictures they did not have to publish. The Bali issue featuring supermodel Elle McPherson became one SI's most successful issues. SI invited both Amb. Ramly and I to the shoot and both of us used to laugh about our regret that we didn't take them up on their offer.

Although he had disagreements with Suharto over certain policy matters, and in particular, with the Army's heavy handed handling of the growing unrest in Aceh, he nevertheless was given the job of securing Jakarta for the groundbreaking 1994 APEC Summit in Bogor. When I saw him a few weeks before it kicked off - and he was in the thick of planning for thousands of guests and heads of state from over 20 nations - he greeted me serenely in his suite at the Hotel Atlet Century, a low profile establishment. That day the monsoon rains had finally come and he said “Rain Forrest from NY finally brought the rain”.

In 2008, 10 years after the end of Suharto era when contemporary society did not always look back fondly on that time, AICC recognized AR Ramly's achievements and long friendship with the United States and our organization by honoring him with a lifetime achievement award. I presented this to him at a summit we had helped organize in Jakarta to attract trade and investment to post tsunami Aceh as part of AICC's “Sustain Sumatra” initiative.

I suppose Ramly felt some irony in the moment as he put his arm around me, took the microphone from my hand, and said, “It took this guy from NY to finally recognize what I and others of my generation have done for this country".”

I think of those words today and how important it is to understand, no matter who or what government is in power, the importance of serving one's country. AR Ramly served the interests of Indonesia with distinction and will be remembered for his warmth, directness, and ability to get things done. We in the business community and at AICC have had no greater friend and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and celebrate his life with his friends and colleagues all around the world. 

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