Every big bureau needs a Rolf
Sunday 2 October 2022
Every big bureau needs a Rolf. Eager and indefatigable, Rolf would jump into a story with an enthusiasm that made him seem like a cub reporter years after he’d left that stage way behind. If someone had to drive like wild overnight to get to a plane crash or the latest trainload of East Germans arriving by train in the west, just call Rolf and he’d be out the door even before you hung up. He had an energy and enthusiasm that never failed when you needed it. He was not the best with news analyses, but for bread-and-butter reporting - especially if it included high-speed travel or audacious tricks - and eyewitness stories he was tops.
Rolf was on trial in Bonn when I took over as chief correspondent in April 1989. Newly laid off there from a slowly dying UPI, he was taken on by my predecessor, another Swede Björn Edlund. But Björn left with the proviso that I would make the final decision. Soon after my arrival, Lech Wałęsa, whom Rolf had covered in the August 1980 Solidarność strike, came to Bonn. I sent Rolf over to cover his dinner visit to West German President Richard von Weizsäcker and went home. As I watched the television coverage that evening, I first saw a black Mercedes solemnly pulling up to the presidential residence. Suddenly Rolf appeared on the screen, opening the car door and firing questions at Wałęsa, even before guest and host could stage the usual grip and grin for the cameras. I decided right then that he had the permanent post.
Ever since then, I think of a go-getting reporter as “a Rolf”.
Our ways parted when he was posted away from Bonn, but we always kept in touch in his Oslo, Vienna, London and Devon lives. I enjoyed his culinary posts on Facebook and smiled at the pleasure the never-really-retired Rolf took in writing in his native Swedish again. It was only a few days ago that he wrote with the same enthusiasm about diving back into an English-language manuscript he hadn’t finished. I was shocked to hear he had died so suddenly, but it fits the way Rolf did so many things. My deepest condolences to Heather, Jenny and Tora and their families. ■