It's an auspicious time for Terry Anderson to return to Batavia to dedicate a peace garden.
Anderson, who grew up in Batavia, was chief Middle East correspondent for Associated Press when he was abducted on March 16, 1985, in Beirut following a game of tennis. Anderson was held in captivity by Hezbollah for six years and nine months.
As Anderson returns to his boyhood home, the Middle East is exploding in a way it never has before. Governments in Tunisia and Egypt have been toppled by pro-democracy demonstrators. Even the Iranian government, which backs Hezbollah, is facing youthful opposition.
Anderson is cautiously optimistic about what he sees happening.
"I watched Yasser Arafat and Isaac Rabin shake hands on the White House lawn," Anderson said tonight during a meet-and-greet at Batavia Downs. "It was one of the most optimistic days of my life, because I covered that conflict for years, and (look at) what has happened since.
"It doesn’t always turn out for the best. But yes, I see something new in the Middle East. I see something that promises something hopeful for the future."
One of America's most acclaimed and recognized journalists, Anderson was invited to return to his former hometown to help raise funds for a War of 1812 Peace Garden planned for a plot of land adjacent to the Holland Land Office Museum.
Anderson will have a busy day Friday, starting with an 8 a.m. visit to Batavia High School. He will also have lunch with GCC President Stuart Steiner followed by a public lecture at noon at GCC. At 2 p.m., there will be a press conference with Anderson at the Genesee County History Office, 7 W. Main St., and at 5 p.m., the main event -- a dinner at Terry Hills ($25 per person), where Anderson will be the featured speaker.
Thursday night, Anderson arrived at Batavia Downs shortly after 7 p.m. and he was warmly greeted by a few old friends as well as people involved in organizing the peace garden effort. Anderson also took a few minutes to talk with members of the media who where there.
Anderson -- who recently finished a teaching stint at the University of Kentucky and is now contemplating a return to residency in Upstate New York -- was animated as soon as the topic turned to the turmoil in the Middle East.
He recalled that he was in captivity when Marcos fell in the Philippines, and that was followed by the regime falling in South Africa and then, of course, the toppling of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union.
"It just proves again what we knew then – you can have all of the police and secret police and guns and thugs in the world, and when your people stand up and say, ‘no, we’re tired of you,’ you’re gone," Anderson said.
He added, "Every country is different, but there is something going around that they all seem to have in common: They are tired of dictators and corruption and denial of human rights."
A Vietnam veteran, Anderson said that as a 19-year-old Marine, he visited the most famous peace garden in the world, the one at ground zero in Hiroshima, Japan. So when he was invited to return to Batavia to help bring about a new peace garden he thought, "who's not in favor of peace?
"Why would I miss a chance to dedicate a peace garden? It may be on a smaller scale, but why wouldn't I support it?"
Photo: Jim Owen gets an autograph from Terry Anderson on one of his books.