Remembering Marie Colvin.
- By Sarah A. TopolSarah A. Topol is a Cairo-based journalist. Follow her on Twitter: @satopol.
CAIRO — On Wednesday morning, Marie Colvin, a veteran American war reporter for Britain’s Sunday Times, was killed in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, Syria, with award-winning French photographer Remi Ochlik.
With Marie’s passing, the world lost a brilliant correspondent, the journalism community lost a mentor, and women lost an icon. Marie set the gold standard in every way: personal and professional. Her reporting and writing were thorough, captivating, and honest — she was fearless and got to the heart of the story. As a person, Marie was witty, compassionate, and generous with her time and wisdom.
I met Marie in early September, in the newly liberated Libyan capital of Tripoli. The situation was convoluted as hell, and I felt like I was in way over my head with a story. I wasn’t sure I was doing anything right. Marie volunteered to sit down to talk it out even though she was on deadline. She offered advice, other angles to look at, contacts to call. She cared so much she followed up with me about it. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t too stressed out.
Later, I came to her room in the Radisson hotel, and she insisted she had time to keep talking things over. Her questions were so penetrating that I got flustered, convinced again that I was doing everything wrong. Sensing my anxiety, Marie apologized to me for caring so much about my story. It was funny at the time because, mostly, I couldn’t actually believe the Marie Colvin even remembered my name.
Being around her made you strive to be better as a reporter and as a human. I often feel that way around star journalists, but what made Marie different from most was her willingness to help you get there.
We emailed afterward about my possible upcoming work opportunities for a British publication. "Good luck. Call me if you need any advice. Don’t vent too much, they’re English," she wrote. "You will be great."
In a profession fraught with competition and ego, Marie embodied the best traits on offer. Although she covered almost every war of late, I never heard her brag about being caught in a firefight. She had the unique ability to make you feel like she was entirely yours.
War reporting is still dominated by men. Marie stood out as a woman who could do it just as well, if not better, than the guys. She was always humble and encouraging of other women. We discussed strategies for becoming a better writer — she was happy to sit down and share everything she knew over coffee. Without knowing it, she made me believe that I could be more like her.
The first thing that struck me about Marie was her energy. It was magnetic, frantic, and graceful all in one. When I met her, Marie had just returned from Jufra, an oasis region in Libya’s south, where no other Western reporter had dared to tread. She was tired but bursting with enthusiasm for what she’d witnessed. She needed to get the story out. In a world with so little compassion, Marie cared, deeply, about everything she touched, and I watched as people responded in kind.
She was the same in Syria, in Baba Amr, reporting a story very few could access or even understand. Her final dispatch is heartbreaking in its humanity. "It is a city of the cold and hungry, echoing to exploding shells and bursts of gunfire," she wrote of Homs. "Freezing rain fills potholes and snow drifts in through windows empty of glass. No shops are open, so families are sharing what they have with relatives and neighbours. Many of the dead and injured are those who risked foraging for food."
In a closed Facebook site for journalists, Marie wrote her final comment last night, displaying her signature blend of honesty and humanity. She posted about the situation in Baba Amr: "Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information."
None of us can thank Marie enough, for her time, for her example, for her support, and for her courage. It’s difficult for me to really believe she’s gone. It’s impossible for me to believe she could ever be matched.