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John Morrison: solid news judgment, incisive writing and sharp wit

John was not only an inspirational colleague and mentor, but also a close friend, and I am deeply bereaved at his passing. We met when he joined the Paris bureau as chief correspondent in 1983. As a lowly local hire, I was immediately impressed by his solid news judgment, incisive writing and sharp wit. He and his wife, Penny, also a close friend, regaled me with stories of their Moscow adventures, setting me on the path to go to Russia myself.

In fact there was what might be called a Moscow mafia in the Paris bureau in those days, with Moscow veteran Bob Evans as bureau chief and Charles Bremner vacating the Paris chief correspondent seat for John in order to return to Moscow to head the bureau. John and the others applied Politburo-style analysis to French politics, a good lesson in journalism.

The only time I may have questioned John’s judgment was one day in 1984 when he joined forces with Chris Peterson, then the assignment editor, while I was out to lunch. When I returned, they asked whether I’d like to go on a cruise.

“Of course,” said I, but when Chris grinned I asked, “What kind of cruise?”

“A nuclear cruise,” he replied, and they sent me off to the North Sea on a Greenpeace ship to investigate the sinking of a freighter carrying a radioactive cargo. With other reporters dropping like flies as our ship was battered by massive waves and gale-force winds, John took my jittery phoned-in copy with aplomb and, I dare say, improved it considerably.

Even though our paths diverged after Paris, with John taking charge of the bureau in Zimbabwe before settling in Sevenoaks, we stayed in touch over the years through visits and shared vacations. During a year as a research fellow at Harvard’s Russian Research Center, John produced the first biography of Boris Yeltsin, published in 1991 on the eve of Yeltsin’s accession as Kremlin chief. Later, when working as chief political correspondent at Westminster, John wrote his second book, Reforming Britain, an analysis of New Labour.

After leaving Reuters John devoted himself to his passion for theatre as a spectator, reviewer and playwright. He was a dedicated father to his two sons, Alexander and Nicholas, and he and Penny continued to travel the world, from Senegal to Kazakhstan and many points in between. Among his other activities, he became a talented bread baker.

John was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in late 2015. He faced his illness with dignity and astonishing calm. Without this erudite and charming man, the world is a lesser place. ■