Farewell To an American ‘Princess’ Murdered in Syria

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This is a personal tribute to a dear friend and highly respected colleague, Marie Colvin, the Middle East correspondent whose eye patch photos are all over the front pages today after being murdered by the Syrian regime yesterday at Homs.

Marie lost an eye covering the Sri Lanka revolt led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil many years ago. She was traveling with the rebels in their jungle hideouts when the Sri Lankan army troops shot her. It took her three months of surgery and rehabilitation, all paid for by Rupert Murdoch who flew her out in his personal jet. She went right back to work, covering victims of wars.
Yesterday Syrian army troops shot, and, this time, killed her. May she rest in peace.

Marie was from Long Island. She remained a New Yorker even though she lived in London for more than 35 years. War correspondents are a small tribe, and many of us know each other well, having served in the same trenches and drunk at the hotel bars to which we retired after the chaos of the day. She was always there when it mattered in the trenches and at the bar.

The British press considered her an American princess and a beauty, which she was indeed. I was best man at her wedding to one of my dearest friends, Juan Carlos Gumucio, a Bolivian and master reporter who became the former Middle East Correspondent of El Pais. We all congregated for months at the American Colony Hotel at Jerusalem, and that is where their love story unfolded.

They were married to other people but this was a memorable love story. In 2002, it ended when we mourned JC, as we called Juan Carlos. He too died from a bullet, although in his case a self-inflicted one — testament to the stresses that the life he chose can impress on a person.

Marie covered wars and civil conflicts better than any man or woman I know in our business. Many of us took comfort going to a war zones from Iraq-Iran, to Lebanon, to Bethlehem with her in the pack. She laughed, joked, drank and wrote beautifully. She was a princess with the gorgeous look of a pirate. The eye patch and her blue eye really made her stand out as an exotic beauty. But when they read the story dictators felt the sharp end of a surgeon’s knife, as she wrote the whole truth. Think Ava Gardner as a journalist.

I recommend looking up her last story from Syria in this past week’s London Sunday Times. When she was killed she was taking care of one of JC’s daughthers and lived in a townhouse in London they had both purchased together. She was 56, and the lines on her beautiful face testified to her unbelievable voyage.

There will be a memorial service sometime here in New York for Marie. No doubt it will be attended by scores of reporters and editors on the East Coast. People like Marie remind us of the high principles of foreign corresponding, and also the high cost on marriages, relationships, and life itself .

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