Monday 20 February 2017

He had a gift for making other people feel very special

DaVID cONACHY Photographic Editor

Published 22/01/2012 | 05:00

Every photographer knows the cliche that a good picture is worth a thousand words.

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It would take more than a thousand words -- in fact, it would take a whole biography to capture the essential magic of Aengus Fanning. Even his biggest critics would never contend that the man was boring. I was privileged to get to know Aengus during 14 years at the Sunday Independent. He was a remarkable person who has left me -- and so many others -- with a treasure trove of memories. He taught me so much, not just about journalism, but about life.

Aengus had done it all, yet he had a great gift for making other people feel special. He did wonders for my confidence. He never issued directives. He wanted your opinion and he would listen carefully. He would put his faith in you 100 per cent and back you to the hilt. That was a powerful feeling.

I will cherish most the days when the two of us were out on a job -- Aengus would be interviewing some leading personality and my role was two-fold. I was there as a photographer, of course, but I was also there as Aengus's chauffeur, or so we would joke. Aengus hated to drive. Traffic wardens and bus lanes featured high among his pet hates. Despite his aversion to driving, he loved his open-top BMW. A man of contradictions, but also of tremendous style.

On these trips, I learned a lot. Conversations with Aengus could be more illuminating than an Open University course. He had a great love of history, especially the Second World War. He loved to talk about the military strategies of Churchill and Rommel. He also had a huge interest in the economist John Maynard Keynes and, while I have to confess some of this went over my head, it was hard not to be drawn in by Aengus's passion for his subject. More frequently, he would talk about politics, or the ups and downs of Liverpool FC. The team's failure to win a Premiership title in two decades was a source of on-going frustration for him!

When we arrived at the job, Aengus the supreme journalist kicked in. His natural charm would put the interviewee at ease. Aengus was never a man for new gadgets and had a trustworthy old-fashioned recorder. Aengus would invariably go through a routine of stopping and starting the machine, almost pretending that he couldn't get it to work. This was all about lightening the mood, disarming the subject and helping everyone relax.

He certainly put the American ambassador Richard Egan at ease -- and perhaps took him off guard -- when he asked him for hair oil before I took their picture. Not surprisingly, the ambassador didn't have hair oil to hand, but he did offer him a comb.

Aengus had the great skill of being able to ask the incisive question, but in a conversational, never a confrontational, manner. He would take voluminous notes with a fountain pen on sheets of loose paper. His style looked chaotic, but that was all on the surface. He never missed a key point. He remembered everything and the copy he would produce was always in a league of its own.

In the car on the way back to the office, Aengus would politely ask my opinion. He never pigeon-holed people: he knew everyone had opinions and he wanted to hear them.

But the view that mattered most was that of Anne Harris. She was his touchstone and always the first phone call he would make in the car after a big interview. He would discuss the news angle with her. They were a super team. Often, he would also ring his sons -- Dion, Evan and Stephen -- just to say hello and to see how their day was going.

If the interview had gone particularly well, Aengus might produce his tin whistle and play a tune as we drove along. This was the moment I really enjoyed and it was then that Aengus was at his most relaxed. He loved music and he told me that he had learned the clarinet, but had graduated to the tin whistle because it was easier to carry around.

Aengus loved the Sunday Independent and this shone through in his impeccable courtesy. If anyone helped the paper, they could be assured of a text, or a phone call or a scrawled note from Aengus expressing his appreciation.

He always reminded me to say thank you no matter how busy or tough things might be.

So, in conclusion, I'll simply say thank you. Thanks Aengus, for being a wise mentor. Thanks for being a wonderful boss. But thank you, most of all, for being a dear friend.

I will miss you deeply.

Sunday Independent

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