Jim Muir's tribute to Marie Colvin
- 23 February 2012
- From the section Middle East
The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut pays tribute to his close friend of 25 years Marie Colvin, an American reporter with the Sunday Times, who was killed when a shell hit a makeshift media centre in Syria's besieged city of Homs. French photographer Remi Ochlik also died and two other foreign journalists were wounded.
In the shoal of emails put out daily by activist groups in Syria, Marie and Remi were just two more digits in the grim statistics of death.
"58 martyrs in Homs, including the two journalists," said one opposition group. Another put the count for the day at 64, including two children and Marie and Remi.
Marie's vivid, heartrending reporting from Homs' Baba Amr, her description of watching a wounded child die, did much to humanise the statistics and bring to life the reality of a horrendous situation with which a helpless world has found it hard to engage, despite all the YouTube footage.
Now her and Remi's deaths and the wounding of their colleagues have focused even more attention on what is happening there.
That may raise even further the pressure for some kind of action to be taken to break the siege and allow relief in to the 28,000 civilians Marie said were trapped there in increasingly desperate conditions.
Would she have thought that worth giving her life for?
The choice is never that stark. But she knew she was risking it.
She had an absolute compulsion to go to where bad things were happening, and tell the world about it.
I saw her many times during the four or five days she spent in Beirut before leaving for Homs, and sensed a vulnerability, a feeling of insecurity I hadn't seen in her before.
Friends urged her not to go, but for her that wasn't an option.
"They're doing terrible things there," she told me. "We have to be there."
And she was.
If there is a scale of courage, Marie was at the top of it. Because she knew the reality of war, and that there are no guardian angels.
She learned that her life was not charmed in 2001, when she lost an eye covering the war in Sri Lanka.
Since then, she wore an eyepatch that she managed to turn into an iconic fashion accessory by sporting a diamante version to parties.
But her injury was not something she shrugged off lightly. She later suffered post traumatic stress disorder so badly she had to be hospitalised.
So her courage was not the bravado of the foolhardy who imagine themselves invulnerable.
It was the quiet determination of someone who had to do what she believed she was for, knowing the risks and possible consequences. To tell the story and give a voice to the voiceless.
Last fateful journey
Despite her injury and the mental scars that went with it, she plunged back into the fray, covering countless wars and upheavals all over the Middle East and elsewhere.
Her former husband Patrick Bishop, who covered the Middle East with her for the Telegraph in the 1990s, said he had never seen her show fear at all.
One abiding memory I have is a visit they made to the village house I had in Cyprus in 1990.
Marie - who could be glamorous when she wanted to and was as at home in London high society as she was roughing it on warfronts - gave my daughter Shona a faux Coco Chanel handbag as an arrival present. It was treasured for years.
"It was a pretty awesome handbag for a four-year-old," says Shona, now 25, who doesn't rule out that it had a formative effect on her current career as a stylist for fashion magazines.
Like that other great American journalist the Syrian crisis has claimed in recent days, Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, Marie - despite all the awards and accomplishments and recognition - remained modest and self-deprecating.
At a wake held by colleagues in Beirut on Monday evening for Anthony, who was buried in his ancestral hometown in southern Lebanon the day Marie died, we agreed that our odd profession is a sort of transnational tribe which had lost one - now two - of its exemplary figures, the very best.
Like Anthony, she loved life despite her dedication to the job. She loved parties and dinners, and was an accomplished ocean-racing yachtswoman.
When she got horribly lost walking the simple 100m route from her hotel to my flat in Beirut last week, she laughed when I suggested cruelly that her monocular situation must have meant she was walking round in circles.
Yet there was something of the anxious little girl about her as she set off into the unknown on that last fateful journey, knowing the dangers that lay ahead.
She took only a small knapsack containing her satellite computer, some granola bars and a jar of instant coffee she said she couldn't live without.
We knew it would be freezing cold - it snowed in Homs while she was there - so I lent her a pair of ill-fitting, Y-fronted longjohns to keep her warm.
They seem to have worked.
"Have made it to the heart of Baba Amro," she wrote when she arrived.
"Warm legs but all else wet, muddy and cold. You would love it here. Working by candlelight. No Thuraya [satphone] but email and so we can communicate. Mx"
When the shelling of Homs resumed on Wednesday morning, I sent a message to Marie, who'd done a searing interview on the BBC the day before.
"Great stuff Colvin. You'll put me out of a job... More shelling today... hope you're keeping safe.
I hate to think what state my longjohns are in by now... come back soon!
KEEP SAFE YOU MAD PERSON
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