Top of the World, Ma!
How Marvin Brustin’s love of mountains led to a diplomatic post with Nepal
Published in 2007 Illinois Super Lawyers magazine
on January 4, 2007
Updated on August 12, 2015
When Chicago-based attorney Marvin Brustin first decided to vacation in Nepal some 30 years ago, he wasn’t seeking a second career as a diplomat. He just wanted to have a good time in the Himalayas.
“I love the mountains,” he says. “I like to trek, I like to climb. I don’t have a lot of technical skill, but I like to scramble and I can work through pain.” In his office he has photos of himself taken on spectacular mountain excursions in New Zealand, Hawaii and Scotland. But he says he found Nepal particularly special. “Some of the remote areas in those mountains, you’re going back hundreds of years. The old ways, the old implements—they have a pretty spartan life. And there are no roads. You have to walk.”
In Nepal’s capital, however, Brustin stumbled into a different sort of adventure. “In Katmandu by myself, I stayed in a small hotel where a lot of foreigners come to visit. And I started meeting Nepalese folks. I met one gentleman who was with Radio Nepal. We became friends, he introduced me to other people, and soon those friendships started to multiply until I knew a lot of people in Nepal, many of whom were in government.”
Brustin says that after “15 or 20 years” of his repeat visits, those friends sent a recommendation up the political ladder that finally reached the foreign minister, who offered him a chance to serve as one of Nepal’s consuls-general in the United States. Brustin has now held the pro bono post for seven years. “I almost have dual loyalty,” he explains. “I’m an American citizen and my loyalty is to America, but I also serve as a representative of a foreign country. Also it’s strange—it’s called ‘honorary’ but there’s no alternative. We are really their diplomatic representative. I report to the ambassador and to the foreign minister.”
It’s not so unusual for a non-national to serve as a country’s foreign representative in this way, says Brustin. “A lot of the smaller and poorer countries do it. The prime minister appointed me, the parliament approved it, and the State Department here approved the application.”
Fifteen hours a week, Brustin sets aside his personal injury practice to fulfill his consulate duties, which he performs in his Chicago law office with the assistance of volunteers from the local Nepalese immigrant community. The tasks range from granting tourist visas to entertaining foreign dignitaries. “Whatever a diplomat would do, we do. Some of the touring companies send their applications over here for visas. If there’s any treaty stuff I can help with, business relationships, commerce, I do that. The acting ambassador was here this weekend, and we spent some time together at a convention of the nonresident Nepalese from all throughout the United States, at the Crowne Plaza O’Hare.”
Brustin says the chance to interact with people from other cultures makes his diplomatic post an enjoyable departure from the routine of his law practice. “I meet some fascinating people,” he says. “It’s my therapy. Instead of getting on a couch somewhere, I’ve got another life aside from being a lawyer.”