Peggy Say epitomized perseverance in her tireless effort to free her kidnapped brother, Terry Anderson, who spent nearly seven years as a hostage in Lebanon.
Say died last week at age 74. She taught the world a lesson in not giving up and, in doing so, helped lift the spirits of her younger brother during his seemingly endless captivity.
Anderson was the chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press in 1985. His life was upended after he was kidnapped off the streets of Beirut.
He was held by the pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim militant faction Islamic Jihad for 2,454 days. He was released on Dec. 4, 1991, making him the longest held of 92 foreigners abducted during Lebanon’s civil war, as reported by the New York Times. Most were ultimately freed, while 11 died or were killed in captivity.
It was during those dark days that his older sister, a self-described housewife, took on an extraordinary task: working to free her brother and his fellow hostages.
She turned up the volume and made people pay attention, boldly knocking on the doors of politicians of all stripes, as well as those of world leaders.
Paul Weis, former Batavia City Council president, said: “She rallied us. She never let us forget.”
In her persistent efforts to win Anderson’s release, Say took every opportunity to promote her brother’s plight on television and radio and in newspapers. Former AP President Lou Boccardi said, “In a very short time, she made herself into a national figure as the family face of long and frustrating efforts to win freedom for her brother,” adding, “She never took ‘no’ for an answer.”
Say’s voice carried the thousands of miles to Lebanon, reaching Anderson on those few occasions his captors allowed him and his fellow hostages the “privilege” of radios and newspapers.
“The first time I heard Peg’s voice on Armed Forces Radio, I cried,” he said.
Her actions proved critical in the eventual freedom of her brother. She humbly said, on the eve of Anderson’s release in 1991, “I did what I had to do as his sister,” crediting intervention by the United Nations with eventually winning freedom for the remaining American hostages.
She also said she did not think the United Nations would have intervened had she and others not “kept the plight of Terry and other people alive.”
Say, who eventually redirected her energy to helping victims of domestic violence, offered this elegant remark to People magazine in 1994: “The final healing takes place when you’re able to take that very ugly experience and turn it around to help somebody else.”