Celebrating life stories...



Memorial created 01-15-2008 by
Howard Yellen
Thor David Hesla
April 1 1962 - January 14 2008

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01-21-2008 6:52 AM -- By: Stephanie Stuckey Benfield,  From: Atlanta, GA  

I first met Thor when he was running a phone bank for the Dukakis campaign in Athens, and I was active in the UGA Young Dems. That was in 1987, and Thor and I stayed in touch over these 20 years as we both continued to work on other campaigns - Ben Jones, Cinton, Bill Bradley and others. Like myself, Thor loved politics and he loved helping elect good people to public office (Thank God they were all Democrats!) He was funny and irreverant and extremely bright. I enjoyed spending time with Thor when he was back in Atlanta for his work on the Paralympics. Once you knew Thor, you knew him for life. We exchanged emails as recently as this past November when we joked that we should respond to Georgia's governor's lame brained idea to hold a prayer vigil for rain as a solution to our drought crisis with a Native American rain dance on the Capitol steps. Now I wished we'd actually done that rain dance! I introduced a resolution in the Georgia Legislature this past honoring Thor (I tried to submit the link to it but the web server won't allow it, but it can be found by googling the Georgia General Assembly and input HR 1067). I think Thor would be laughing his head off up in heaven to know that the Republican representatives were falling over one another to sign Thor's resolution since he was "a great American patriot fighting for freedom in the Mid-East". If they'd only known what a wonderful, die hard liberal he was! My heart goes out to Thor's father, David, and his sister, Moren, and her family.

01-20-2008 10:30 PM -- By: Chris Cycmanick,  From:  

Thor was the life of the party, the consummate organizer, a walking political encyclopedia, and the guy who always saw the glass half full.

I knew Thor from his days in DC and in 2003 I was surprised to find him sitting on the same bus traveling through the mountains of Montenegro.

Thor was a Kosovo institution from day one. When I last saw him, it was in Kosovo in 2007 and Thor was between assignments. When I asked what brought him back, he simply said his friends. People were important to him.

Thanks for the memories my friend, you will be sorely missed.

01-20-2008 9:59 PM -- By: Howard Yellen,  From: San Francisco, CA  

I have sent the following email to ABC News. If anyone else is interested in nominating Thor for ABC's "Person of the Week" the form to fill out is on ABC's website here.

Or you can send them an email:

To the Editor:

I know some folks are suggesting that you consider making Thor Helsa the person of the week.

First, I recommend you to www.rememberthor.com. The home page has been looked at almost 40k times, and nearly 1,000 people have made entries in the guestbook.

I think you will find that not only is this a man of great interest, who was widely loved, but he also represents something very important.

We routinely hear about how many Americans have been killed in Iraq, and occasionally in Afghanistan as well.

However, these counts do not include "contractors." That term hardly conveys the roll that Thor and thousands of others like him have played in the war on terror. Truly, he - and they - are soldiers without guns in that war. As a country we have made a policy decision to keep a very "light footprint" in this battle. Thus, jobs that would have previously been done by soldiers, are routinely done by civilians like Thor. Thor's role was similar to a mid-rank public affairs officer. His job was to encourage, cajole, and pressure the Afghani's to adopt a civil society with meaningful elections, open policies, etc.

Like many of us, Thor was ambivalent about the war in Iraq, but believed mightily in the efforts to transform Afghanistan and the region. By remembering Thor, we honor not only him, but all the brave Americans who have risked life and limb to support our operations overseas.

So I ask that you consider Thor Hesla as your "Person of the Week."


Howard Yellen

01-20-2008 7:33 PM -- By: Gerald Jabaley,  From: Teacher, Briarcliff High School (1969-1985)  

I remember a number of wonderful things about Thor Hesla when he was a student at Briarcliff High, but one stands out in my mind. Twelve to fifteen students and I were returning from an intensely interesting, but exhausting week in Washington, D.C. with the Close-Up Program. We were at the airport at 2:00 a.m. and were told that our flight was delayed. As everyone else seemed ready to slip into depression, Thor sprung into action. He took various objects from a friend’s purse and started making up alternative uses for these items. Soon everyone forgot our present trouble and joined him in this game. I remember thinking – Thor has a wonderful gift to share with the world and from reading his obituary – I think I was right. We’ll miss you, Thor.

01-20-2008 6:09 PM -- By: Mary Anne Alderson,  From: Emory U friend, (now in Florida)  

How could they take our Thor from us. Such a deeply rich human being, too spicey for this world. We met at a college party, Haines' place I think. He grabbed me, I won't say where, I slapped him. Thus, we were friends. There is no "ness", like "Thor-ness." I miss you.

01-20-2008 1:54 PM -- By: Mary Clare Gumbleton,  From: DC  

Thor, baby, I miss you - I'm having a hard time grasping the notion that I won't see you again. It's hard to imagine an election season without your astute observations as to how it will play out and who will win. I can't imagine a world without your warped view of it and your warped sense of humor - both of which I deeply appreciated. I can't imagine how can I have a conversation, searching for a word to finish a sentence, with you throwing in an endless stream of words that popped into your brain that had absolutely nothing to do with the concept I was trying to express, getting me completely off my train of thought, and laughing my ass off at the words you did come up with. What am I supposed to do now? Keep a watch over us, Thor. love, mc

01-20-2008 11:50 AM -- By: Jody Steinberg,  From: Atlanta (BHS 1980)  

When I wrote my condolences to the Heslas on AJC the day I heard, I did not yet know about this site and all the wonderful things Thor has done and the amazing person he became. I guess there is a reason that note disappeared into cyberspace. I remember the young Thor that Maren so poignantly (and humorously) described in her eulogy. Maren - you gave us the rare gift of humor during the service - I know he was beaming with pride at his big sister on Thursday. The huge crowd in the church is testament to an amazing individual and family. I remember Thor just as Maren described him in high school - intelligent, intuitive and exasperating at times (when he wouldn't stop probing the teacher with questions no one else cared to hear) and very witty. I remember our Close Up trip to Washington, D.C., which only a few of us attended. Thor was in his element there with people (including us) who didn't mind all his questions and comments - and there were many. During the holidays, out of the blue, Thor's face (from high school, with a head full of white-blond hair and ruddy cheeks) popped into my mind and I found myself thinking about him, wondering what he was doing. Little did I know I'd have my answer so soon, and in such detail. Those of you in his life these past two decades were lucky to know Thor and work with him, and he was fortunate to have (or bring) so many great people into his life. It's obvious that he LIVED and LOVED in his 1/2 lifetime than many of us might ever do in twice the years and touched many, many lives. To his family from Atlanta and the family he left around the world, I offer my sincerest condolences. May his memory be a blessing.

01-20-2008 10:21 AM -- By: valerie lang,  From: dublin  


01-20-2008 10:20 AM -- By: Marshall Posey,  From: Virginia  

Go easy Bro.....you are missed.

01-20-2008 9:59 AM -- By: Stephanie Coleman,  From: DC  

My heart is heavy. You are missed and remembered with tears, laughter, admiration and astonishment. Rest in peace, Thor.

01-20-2008 5:34 AM -- By: Abrahim,  From: Afghanistan  

I have only seen him once or twice in the dinning facility in Kabul project office but Even that I feel too sad for him because to me it does not matter who he was but it Does matter he was an innocent human that was killed so cuerlly.

01-20-2008 1:47 AM -- By: Anthony Bell,  From: Red Barn, Rossland, BC  

We are very saddened to learn of Thor's death.

We would like to express our condolences to all of his family, friends and colleagues.

01-19-2008 10:17 PM -- By: Sara McMurray,  From: Evanston nee Olaf  

Freshman year at Kildahl Hall - looking for photos. Stay tuned. Damed waste!

01-19-2008 9:42 PM -- By: Fariba BalaghiTodd,  From: Iran originally now in Las Vegas  

I knew Thor when he was a young man in College. He was a spirited person full of life. I am so pleased to see what an amazing man he had become. His passing is a great loss. My deepest sympathies for all of Thor's friends and family. I'll raise a glass and toast my old friend from the Dugout.

01-19-2008 6:05 PM -- By: Anne O,  From:  

Thor always kept in touch...and gave me some pointers on life in Venezuela (where I am now) I enjoyed his BIG LETTERS and was happy to hear he had found a special person. As he said a beautiful librarian in Miami. What a wonderful memory Thor has left with so many people. Mizpah

01-19-2008 6:02 PM -- By: mario m cooper,  From: dc  

thor came into my life in early 1992. mike pitts hired him to work on the convention's transportation system. i will always remember thor as a wild, crazy, commited hard worker. he would occassionally come by my office at night and instist that i join the "guys" for a beer. when i did, thor's great sense of humor and friendliness always made for a good time. while i have not seen him recently, i will always remember his warmth and his contribution to the 1992 convention.

01-19-2008 5:50 PM -- By: Rick Crawford,  From: Yarmouth, ME  

Thor- crazy, intelligent, one of a kind- The god of thunder.

Peace my friend


01-19-2008 5:38 PM -- By: Kathie Gaar,  From: Phoenix, AZ  

I want to send my deepest prayers to Thor's family and Glod Bless you all.

God Bless you all

01-19-2008 5:24 PM -- By: Helen Smith,  From: Iowa & Atlanta  

After knowing Dr. Hesla at Cornell College and coming to Emory for graduate school, partly on the advice of Dr. Hesla to Cornell's history dept. professors, I saw Dr. Hesla from time to time. At one point I "babysat" for Thor and his sister over a weekend. That "baby" grew up to be an amazing human being. My first knowledge of the impact of his death came from an e-mail from Shiva Balaghi, a former student of mine who was lucky enough to be part of an international community of Thor's friends.

01-19-2008 4:32 PM -- By: Alison Bucklin,  From:  

connected to Thor only thru Chad Eschweiler's memories, I have just met a remarkable man.

01-19-2008 12:37 PM -- By: Gabriella Save,  From: Sweden  

Thor, we will always remember your big heart and all the great things you did.

My sincerest thoughts to the family.

01-19-2008 12:23 PM -- By: Steve Young-Burns,  From: St Olaf '84  

I met Thor freshman year at St Olaf. He was quirky, funny, and wore his bathrobe to the Caf. When I met my now-wife Julie Thor got wind of how fond we were of each other, and promptly sat us down to tell us how it would never work, for reasons I never quite understood. Something to do with men and women's natural incompatibility for being together long-term, or somesuch. 25 years later despite Thor's warnings I am still happily in love with Julie. 25 years since I last saw Thor, and now reading through his Big Letters, I wish I'd kept in touch with him. Thor sounds like he was a fascinating friend to have. For those of you lucky enough to have him in your lives, my heart goes out to you. Peace.

01-19-2008 12:20 PM -- By: Brill OBrien,  From: Alexandria, VA  

Thor-you will be missed.

01-19-2008 10:25 AM -- By: Molly Staeheli,  From: St. Paul, MN/Kosovo  

I graduated from St. Olaf college in 1995 and it was the only place I had ever met an actual human being named Thor. Before I first met OUR Thor on my second full day in Kosovo, I thought there was an off chance that we had met at one point on The Hill (St. Olaf, not Capital). When I didn't recognize him, I instantly gave up on the Olaf connection. As our small talk continued, he asked, "Where are you from." "Minnesota, " I replied. "What school did you go to." "Oh, just a small private college in southern Minnesota." "What college?" he asked with probing curiosity. "it's called St. Olaf." I answered waiting for some Golden Girls jab. Instead the next words out of his mouth were, "Which dorm did you live in?!"

Yes, here in a small cafe in Prishtina, Kosovo two Oles find each other, which bound Thor and I together instantly.

In later conversations about St. Olaf, I told him about crazy parties we used to have at Haldorsen house where a group of my friends lived. "Haldorsen house?" Thor asked. "did it have a backyard up against the football fields?" "Yea, it did." "Did it have a front porch that you walked through into the house . . . with the livingroom on the left and stairs on the right?" "Yea." "Did you then walk back to the kitchen where there was a back stairway?" "Yea . . . " "HA!!! That was my great aunt's house!! She was Mrs. Haldorsen!!!"

Our lives were 10 years apart at St. Olaf College, but the cosmos brought us together at just the right time here in Kosovo. I was only here for a few months before Thor left Kosovo, but our St. Olaf histories brought us together as if we had actually met in Mohn Hall.

I can only believe that I was meant to meet and know Thor. I was only allowed to have him for a shot time, but the impact he had and the part that he played in my life here were enough to make me feel like the luckiest girl to have found him at all.

I Love you T!!! I'll sing UM YA YA with you any time!!!

01-19-2008 12:23 AM -- By: Kath Delaney,  From: Kensington, CA  

What a huge loss to the planet. My blessings and thoughts go out to Thor's family and friends.

Thor was an American hero, fighting the good fight - all ways.

I miss your goofy ways Thor.

Please know you are LOVED.


01-19-2008 12:18 AM -- By: Kathleen Mullen,  From: Alexandria, VA  

I knew Thor from his Clinton/DC days. After he moved on to work with the Atlanta Olympic Committee, I had the good fortune to exhibit at a conference down there. Of course, I let Thor know I was coming down. He was the perfect host--he took me on a driving tour of Atlanta (it was my first visit ever)--showing me Emory, various neighborhoods, and the Olympic Village.

While I was down there he was going to be attending a wedding. He went so far as to call the bride to see if he might be able to bring me with him. Since others couldn't attend, I was a yes. We had a delightful time.

After the wedding reception, it was still early on in the evening and he took me to some of his favorite spots in Atlanta. Then he asked me if I wanted to go to a strip club (not my usual thing). He said it was cool and trendy--assured me that there would be other women there [other than the strippers]. Since I'm usually game for checking out new things out I said yes.

Thor ended up taking me to the Clermont. It was just like he said--not like any strip club I expected. It didn't have the sleazy vibe I was expecting. We sat at the bar where the dancers were performing, drinking and chatting and watching/observing. Thor encouraged me to tip the dancers, which of course I did. To my surprise, some of the dancers then came up to me and asked me if I would like a private lap dance. I'll have to say I was taken by surprise, but I graciously said no thank you. I can't help thinking if Thor would knew that would happen. :-)

It was a wonderfully memorable evening filled with Thor's fun company/

A year or so later, I happened to be channel surfing and caught a bit of Insomniac with Dave Attell-and saw he was in a strip club and I thought it looked familiar--it turned out to be the Clermont. Thor sure could pick out fun and cool places even before they became trendy.

I have not been to another strip club since. I vividly remember that evening and I'm glad I went to the Clermont and I'm glad it was with Thor.

Thor--you are missed and loved and respected by so many. You would be in awe.

May one day peace and love be the norm on this planet. I know you would totally want that too.

xoxoxo Kathleen

01-18-2008 11:42 PM -- By: Shah Jamali,  From: U.S.  

Great guy. sorely missed.

01-18-2008 11:25 PM -- By: Larry Fish,  From: NYC  

I'm the innocent bystander But somehow I got stuck Between a rock and a hard place And I'm down on my luck Yes, I'm down on my luck Well, I'm down on my luck

Send lawyers, guns and money Send lawyers, guns and money


01-18-2008 10:22 PM -- By: Jon Knuths,  From: St Olaf  

Now from South Dakota,

With great memories of my good friend Thor!

01-18-2008 9:40 PM -- By: John Oliver,  From: Raleigh, NC  

I realy don't know where to begin. I remember his smile, his wit, his laugh and love of life. I had the good fortune of knowing Thor at Emory, and living with him during our senior year at Gilbert hall with fellow rugger, David Pardini. Believe me when I tell you what outragous fun we three had with all of our other friends at Emory. I think what I will cherish most about knowing Thor was his compassion. Somehow he always read peoples' emotions well, and knew just when the hug, or kind word was needed. I can still hear the "Oh Johnny O, it's really not thaaat bad," as he leaned close, put his arm around me and lay his head on my shoulder. He had a way of making you feel better about yourself, and building you up. No matter how annoying he could sometimes be, that silly smile and wry humor always left you coming for more. Who can forget the dresses! (For those uninitiated, Thor had a penchant for wearing a particularly silly wrap-around sundress at various parties and functions.) Never did figure that one out. Just because, I guess. It was fun, silly and absurd. Over the years I saw Thor less and less. He did me the honor of driving a motocycle about 1000 miles to be at my wedding, and then skinny-dipped in the fountain! (of course there were several other ruggers that felt compelled to do the same.) Then we had the reunions every five years or so, but fell out of touch. Me, too many children (4) and other obligations. He, doing his best to make this world a better place. And he did. I miss you buddy. JMO. P.S. Yesterday I tried writing a memorial through my emotions and tears. I screwed up while trying to post. Just as well. It was written through tears, and far too sad to be a proper memorial to Thor. Celebrate. He would. Raise a glass. He would. Damn, more tears. Shit. This may take some time.


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