British journalism on Wednesday lost one of its most respected war reporters when Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times, often spoken of in the same breath as Martha Gelhorn for her extraordinary courage to venture into the most feared of danger zones and her passion for war victims, was killed with a French photographer Remi Ochlik in Syria.
Ironically, barely hours before her death, Ms. Colvin had joked in a message to a friend that the reports of “my survival may be exaggerated” given the “sickening'' conditions where she was.
The Sunday Times said the journalists were working in Baba Amr, a suburb of the besieged city of Homs, when the house in which they had been staying came under bombardment.
“As they tried to escape the building, Colvin and Ochlik were hit by a rocket and killed,'' it said.
With her trademark black eye-patch that she wore since losing her left eye in a grenade attack while covering the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in 2001, Ms Colvin was regarded as the finest foreign correspondent of her generation in the British media. She had reported from almost every hot spot in the world and won respect especially for the compassion with which she wrote about war victims.
“Marie was an extraordinary figure in the life of The Sunday Times, driven by a passion to cover wars in the belief that what she did mattered. She believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice,” said The Sunday Times Editor John Witherow.
Ms Colvin, who was in her 50s, had been its foreign correspondent for more than two decades and won many awards for her frontline despatches, especially from West Asia. She had become so much a part of the “Fleet Street furniture'', as a friend put it, that few knew that she as actually an American. It was said about her that she was drawn to danger as moths are drawn to a flame; and she once reportedly joked that a partner wanted her to be “Laura Ashley" — “pretty and perfect in the home''.
“But that wasn't Marie and she knew it. She was, without exception, a kind and considerate colleague… a woman who inspired and engaged,'' said BBC's Lyse Doucet.
Former colleagues described her as “an old-fashioned journalist in the best sense''. She had “no agenda'' except to bring to the world “with huge accuracy and compassion'', as former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neill put it, the horrors of war and the sufferings of its victims.
“Nothing seemed to deter her. But she was much more than a war reporter. She was a woman with a tremendous joie de vivre, full of humour and mischief and surrounded by a large circle of friends, all of whom feared the consequences of her bravery,” said Mr Witherow.
Ms Colvin's most recent report, published at the weekend, described a “widows' basement”, the cellar of a wood factory in Homs where 300 women and children were hiding from relentless bombardment. She wrote how a baby born in the basement last week “looked as shell-shocked as her mother”, a 19-year-old called Fatima too traumatised to breastfeed.
In Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron said Ms Colvin's death was “a desperately sad reminder of the risks that journalists take to inform the world of what is happening, and the dreadful events in Syria.”
At least two other foreign journalists were reported wounded — a British freelance photographer Paul Conroy, who was working with Ms Colvin, and Edith Bouvier of the French newspaper, Le Figaro.