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article imageCanadian, John Sheardown, Tehran crisis hero, dies

By Eileen Kersey     Jan 7, 2013 in World
Ottawa - Canadian John Sheardown was the first secretary at the Canadian embassy in Tehran, during the Islamic Revolution. Sheltering six US diplomats in his Tehran home brought him into the media "spotlight".
Former Canadian diplomat, John Sheardown has died aged 88, at a hospital in Ottawa. The announcement was made late Sunday, January 6, that he had passed away on December 30. Mr Sheardown had a lengthy diplomatic career but is remembered for his actions during the Tehran crisis in Iran, in 1979.
On November 4, 1979, militant Iranian radicals seized the US Embassy in Tehran. In doing so 52 staff at the embassy were taken hostage. They were held for 444 days.
The hostage takers claimed their actions were in response to American support for the deposed Shah. Mohammad Reza Shah, often called the Shah of Persia at that time, was ousted in January 1979. He favoured westernisation and a move away from old beliefs. Put on the throne of Iran by western forces, during the Second World War, he failed to hand over to a parliamentary government.
His reign became a repressive regime, which led to revolution. In January the Shah was exiled, and lived in Egypt, Morocco, the Bahamas, and Mexico before moving to the USA to receive medical treatment for advanced cancer in late 1979. This led to the embassy siege in Tehran, by "Students of Imam's Line".
Six Americans managed to escape capture at the embassy and contacted Sheardown at his home. One of the six, American consular officer Robert Anders, contacted Mr Sheardown. Later Sheardown's wife reported that his response was "'What took you so long?'"
The couple agreed to hide four of the Americans in their large house in Tehran. The other two were housed by Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor. Sheardown's wife Zena recalled later,
"It would have been selfish for us not to do so. There weren't many places to hide in Iran, we had the room, they needed our help and it was just not in John's nature to refuse help to anyone.
We have a lot of fond memories. We spent American Thanksgiving together, New Year's Eve together. Every night we would all sit around for dinner together. There was a lot of humor and laughter. It was a nice time to have to spend together," she said. "We tried to be protective, but we also went out of our way to make them feel as if they weren't imposing on us.
He kind of became our leader and since he was a pipe smoker and had more of a mature nature, he became known as 'Big Daddy,' everyone would wait for Big Daddy to come home," she said, chuckling."
The six men were eventually rescued by a phony camera crew, used by the CIA. It became known as the "Canadian caper" and featured in in the Ben Affleck movie ‘Argo’. Although Affleck subsequently apologised for leaving Sheardown out of the film, allegedly due to time constraints and plot developments, Zena said it was frustrating.
"It would have been nice if the story was told correctly because basically, if the Canadians weren't there to help, who knows what would have happened to those Americans."
John Vernon Sheardown was born in Sandwich, Ontario on October 11, 1924. Aged 18 he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and flew on many Lancaster bomber missions, during the Second World War. On one mission, bailing out after the rest of the crew, he broke both of his legs on impact. He had opted to try and wrestle the plane safely to the ground, delaying his own escape.
Staying in the forces, following the war John went on to more active service, this time in Korea. Leaving the military he joined Canada's immigration service around 1962, and so began a 27 year career in the diplomatic field.
John and Zena married in 1975. For him it was a second marriage, but this one stood the test of time. Zena is reported as saying "It was a long love story. He lived a wonderful life and we shared many wonderful years together." Those paying tribute to John have recalled a kind, brave and gentlemanly man.
John is survived by wife Zena, sons, Robin and John, six grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. RIP
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