By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/30/2004 7:22:34 PM ET 2004-12-01T00:22:34

Jim Mollen loved laughter and caused a lot of it. You can see that by watching an old family Christmas video. He's the one with the hair hat. 

But in his serious life he was a humanitarian — a constant volunteer in anyone's fight to ease pain and suffering, especially for children.

"He was just there to say what needs to be done, and how can I help?" says Tom Eklund of Orphanage Outreach, a non-profit group that Mollen helped found as a board member.

Sixteen months ago, to help the State Department in Iraq, he brought his computer skills to the task of getting that country's battered and isolated schools up and running again, and online for the first time.

"Jim really wanted that to happen, so that the horizon was out there," says State Department colleague Paul Savello.

In a radio interview from Iraq in January, Mollen was optimistic, even about schools in Fallujah.

"We're going there to listen to the community and see what we can do to help resolve the problem," said Mollen.

But Iraq's relentless insurgency soon slowed his work to a standstill. It was about a month ago that Mollen decided to leave Iraq and come home to Binghamton, join his family for the Christmas holidays, and then figure out his next step.

"He was going to leave Dec. 1, and he came within one week of that," says his father, Jack Mollen.

Last Wednesday, the 48-year-old Mollen was shot and killed while driving alone outside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. Chief terrorism suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility on his Web site for targeting and killing Mollen.

"I thought he was home free," says Jack. "Fate ruled otherwise."

His family has learned Jim was beloved by so many in such distant places.

"I'm humbled by him, I really am. I don't have the wide horizons that Jim had, and I'm just astounded by him," says his mother, Anne.

U.S. embassy flags worldwide remain at half staff — in honor of a patriot, one colleague wrote, who had the heart of a giant.

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