I would be most remiss if this blog did not post about Clare Hollingworth. Perhaps the most famous woman reporter died at the age of 105 in Hong Kong on January 10th.
The newspapers at the time reported on the passing but it was the obituary in The Economist that made me again realize the power that one intrepid reporter can have on the world. I recall as a teenager that Hollingworth was interviewed at length (perhaps by Dick Cavett?) and her long list of locales from which she had filed stories was breathtaking. The places I loved to locate on a world atlas from the small town of Hancock were places she knew like the back of her hand.
I read this account in the weekly newsmagazine and really have to post a portion that is perhaps one of the best obituaries I have read in a long time. Who would not have wanted to sit and talk with her a long time while drinking a pot of coffee?
She could swim, ride, ski, fly a plane and jump with a parachute. And shoot: during the war she slept with a revolver under her pillow; spares included a small pearl-handled one for her evening bag. Aged nearly 80, she was seen climbing a lamppost to gain a better look at the crackdown in Tiananmen Square. She once avoided arrest in Bucharest by staying wrapped only in a towel. Romanian secret police might strip a woman, she reckoned, but would not dress one by force.
Her wiles were legendary. She ruthlessly trounced rivals, broke rules and exploited an unmatched array of contacts. When India banned foreigners from covering the war with Pakistan in 1965, she cajoled the information minister, Indira Gandhi—whom she knew from a previous posting in Paris—into making an exception. She then asked to bring along two “servants” (in fact, they were colleagues). She had a knack for the telling detail: still-wet concrete in a Polish gun emplacement as the country buckled under the German assault, or insanitary plumbing in a supposedly advanced Chinese arms factory.
She quizzed and befriended generals, prime ministers and spymasters, politely but relentlessly. She gained the first interview with the last Shah of Iran in 1941; after his fall in 1979, he said he would speak only to her. Another scoop, in 1968, was the plans for peace talks to end the Vietnam war, brought to her in Saigon cathedral by an anonymous source. At an age when most journalists are contemplating retirement, she moved to Beijing to open the Daily Telegraph bureau. Though she spoke not a word of Chinese (languages were not her thing) she became a notable China-watcher. Scoops there included Mao’s stroke in 1974 and Deng Xiaoping’s rise. Both were met with scepticism; both proved true.
It all started in August 1939, when, aged 27 and a foreign correspondent for barely four days, she commandeered a British consulate car and drove into Germany from Poland. A gust of wind lifted a roadside hessian screen, revealing Hitler’s army, mustered for the invasion. It was to be the scoop of the century, though at first nobody believed her. On her return she had to produce her shopping—German products unavailable in Poland—to show she had crossed the border.