Friday 2 December 2016

A life dedicated to uncovering truth

Published 23/02/2012 | 05:00

MARIE Colvin (56), who has been killed by shellfire in Homs while covering the uprising in Syria, was a fearless, passionate and ebullient reporter. She was regarded by many as a latter-day version of the legendary war correspondent Martha Gellhorn.

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The two women became friends before Ms Gellhorn's death in 1998 and shared an extraordinary bravery that put them in a position to deliver the wartime stories of rebels, underdogs and ordinary citizens. In recent times this ensured Marie Colvin an array of prizes and awards.

But she did not put her life on the line to win acclaim. Instead, it was by being in the line of fire and by sharing the risks of those she was writing about that she was able to produce her immensely powerful coverage of conflict's human toll.

She was doing precisely this when she was killed, telling the world of indiscriminate government shelling of "a city of cold, starving civilians".

Her eyewitness accounts were broadcast on CNN or the BBC because, though a staff reporter of more than 20 years' standing for the 'Sunday Times', she was -- as usual -- the only journalist not to have fled.

Such dedication and proximity infused her coverage with emotion. In Syria, she said government forces were committing "murder". She was never mawkish, but nor was she minded to stand idly by and witness massacres.

Marie Catherine Colvin was born on January 12, 1956 in Oyster Bay, New York, to William and Rosemarie Colvin, both teachers. Her father eventually gave up teaching to become a political activist for the Kennedy Democrats.

After graduating from Yale, she began her career in unorthodox fashion by taking a job on the in-house magazine of the Teamsters union.

Moving to the press agency UPI, she was appointed to its bureau in Trenton, New Jersey.

Her urge above all, however, was to become a foreign correspondent. She swiftly convinced UPI to promote her to the Paris bureau, where her dash, good looks and dark curls soon won her a host of admirers.

Her break came in 1986, when she was in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, as America launched its biggest aerial attack since Vietnam. Filing copy while scrambling to avoid the explosions, she set a pattern that would last the rest of her career.

It was while there that she was summoned to meet the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and over the next quarter of a century she frequently met him, as well many other political leaders and despots.

While in Libya in 1986 she began freelancing for the 'Sunday Times', which soon lured her over full-time to become its Middle East correspondent. During the Iran-Iraq war, she smuggled herself in disguise into Basra, a city then completely closed off.

In 1987 she met and married the 'Daily Telegraph' Middle East correspondent, Patrick Bishop, and they lived together in Jerusalem from the early 1990s.

In 1999, based with Chechen rebels as Russian troops cut off all escape, she found that the only route out was a 12,000ft mountain pass to Georgia. For eight days she waded through chest-high snow and braved altitude sickness, hunger and exposure.

Mr Bishop set off from Paris to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, where, together with her 'Sunday Times' colleague Jon Swain, he helped organise a helicopter from the US embassy to pluck her off the mountainside to safety.

SHE was soon in Sri Lanka, as ever heading into rebel -- this time Tamil Tiger -- territory. As she tried to cross the front line back into government-held ground, she was hit by shrapnel in four places. Despite specialist surgery, she lost the use of her left eye and afterwards wore a patch.

She promised to take things easier; but that was always unlikely. And as the US-led invasion of Iraq triggered the most dramatic events in the Middle East for decades, remaining on the sidelines became impossible.

Agonisingly for those who knew and loved her, she remained unwearied by what she witnessed and that meant the nature of her death had a certain inevitability about it.

Her assignments no doubt contributed to her eventual separation from Mr Bishop and from Juan Carlos Gumucio, her second husband, who predeceased her. But all who knew her remained devoted to her.

She is survived by Patrick Bishop and her partner of recent years, Richard Flaye. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Marie Colvin, born January 12 1956, died February 22, 2012

Irish Independent

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