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Obituary: John Stephens

John Stephens (photo), who has died in Paris, was born of doctor parents in Merthyr Tydfil where he spoke only Welsh until the age of five, David Ure writes.

After reading law at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he did national service with the Royal Navy (something clandestine, knowing John) and then joined Reuters in 1959.

As a journalist with Reuters, he worked in Paris under the tyrannical (but later admired and adored by John) Harold King, directeur adjoint de l'agence reuter a vie, West Africa, Algeria (whence he was expelled), San Francisco and then Brussels between the reigns of Bob Mauthner and Bob Taylor.

In San Francisco, according to David Lawday "I found his name up in lights in the newsroom of the San Francisco Chronicle (where we had a cubicle) and in its famous corner bar where Pierre Salinger presided…"

By 1971 he was moving into General News Division trading in Brussels and Paris where the Reuters general news report in French was the new product. By 1973 he was GND European manager working for Brian Horton.

The present author remembers well getting an invaluable negotiating lesson from John when I exulted over the gains our new draft Reuters Economic Services contract with the Nordic agencies would score. "What's in it for them and why should they agree and be content going forward?" That had not occurred to me.

When GND and RES merged after Brian Horton's departure, John reporting to Michael Nelson headed Business Group which covered product management, new product planning and technical operations and development.

The big project was the creation of the first foreign exchange dealing product between 1977 and 1981. It is still there earning money for Thomson Reuters. When Glen Renfrew succeeded Gerald Long in 1981 the area organisation was created and John was despatched to New York as managing editor at the time when Reuters was getting interested in picking over the bones of UPI leading to our acquisition of their news pictures business.

But his home was Paris and there he returned in 1983 managing the Western region of Reuters Europe. His final post was deputy managing director of Reuters Europe, the Middle East and Africa when he retired in 1991. He then embarked on a long career as our lobbyist on government affairs throughout Europe and he carried on this role with his own company after we parted ways and Henry Manisty took over.

In 1959 he married Anne Bucquoy, a French national with whom he had two daughters, Caroline and Jessica, all three of whom survive him.

His favourite cities were probably Paris and San Francisco and his favourite home was La Citerna near Florence in Tuscany (in a nest of Reuter gentlefolk to paraphrase Turgenev). I think his favourite colleague was the late Alecco Joannides.

John was a fine linguist, fearless negotiator, helpful boss, cultural polymath and, to his fingertips, a cool cosmopolitan of a type found everywhere in the old Reuters. He was one of the few successful imports from General News Division management into the dominant culture of Reuters Economic Services.

He enjoyed eating and drinking in the best establishments like so many of us back then. On one occasion, feeling the worse for wear the following morning, he was told by Jessica "Papa, tu es deja assez puni!”.

Everyone still alive who knew John will miss him. Reuters was lucky to be served by such a skilled and dedicated employee.

He was 80 when he died last month and had been in poor health for some time. ■