Gerry - Distinguished journalist, genuine man of the people 

Gerry Loughran

Gerry Loughran with his book on March 13, 2010. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Gerry’s training was “old school” in the best sense of the phrase and equipped him well for his career to come.
  • And what a career! Distinguished foreign correspondent for United Press International (UPI), news agency.

The great outpouring of affection from the readers of his weekly column in the Sunday Nation following the death of Gerry Loughran came as no surprise. 

For, in his writing and in the way he lived his life, Gerry was a genuine man of the people. He had the rare ability, invaluable to a journalist, of seeing things through the eyes of others, which enabled him to write in a way they understood and appreciated. It’s called empathy.

Gerry lived by it, and it was evident throughout his long and distinguished career in journalism, as a reporter, editor, foreign correspondent, and ultimately biographer of both his own life and the Nation Group, which he helped to establish and to which he returned in various capacities over the years.

Gerard was born in the village of Lemington, near Newcastle, in the north-east of England to a working-class family of Irish descent.

He attended the local Catholic grammar school and, in his own words, “prayed about being a priest or a monk”, but also had a nagging urge to be a journalist, “as I could spell, punctuate and write a decent sentence”. 

His instinct was correct, and his first published words were in the form of a letter to John Bull, a popular national magazine. Gerry was 13.

Vast practical experience

His ambition was later fulfilled when he left school and joined the popular regional newspaper, the Northern Echo (est. 1870) as a junior reporter and where he acquired the tools of the trade, including shorthand touch-typing and the art of the interview. 

Gerry’s training was “old school” in the best sense of the phrase and equipped him well for his career to come, across continents and in many roles. 

And what a career! Distinguished foreign correspondent for United Press International (UPI), news agency.

Bureau chief in Beirut, Paris and Moscow and eventually appointed foreign news editor at their New York headquarters.

But his life narrative was most deeply entwined with the Nation, beginning with a four-year spell as a sub-editor, shortly after the newspaper was launched in 1960. 

He returned regularly over the years to several key roles where his vast practical experience in all areas of media matters proved invaluable. Gerry was in his element. He lived and breathed newspapers.

No surprise then that, when approached to investigate the possibility of launching a brand-new paper, Gerry threw himself into the project. Together with a team of senior editors, he crisscrossed the region for two years, talking to media professionals and potential readers to canvass opinions. 

The result was the launch of The EastAfrican in1998.

Made many friends

By natural inclination, Gerry was a modest man and not one to boast, but it was clear in the way he talked about it that he took great satisfaction in the subsequent success of his “baby”.

Away from the office, Gerry was everything you would expect from a Geordie, the name affectionately given to members of his “tribe” on Tyneside. Outgoing, friendly, with a unique sense of humour and a lifelong interest in the fortunes of Newcastle United. 

Through his international travels, Gerry made many friends around the world. It also meant he was a bit of a bon viveur, who appreciated a glass of vintage wine and fine dining. He was also an opera lover, particularly the works of Wagner.

In his final years, Gerry’s empathy extended beyond the readers of his Letter from London, when he signed up to sponsor young Kenyans under the Hilde Back Foundation education project. 

One of my favourite photos of Gerry is of a related celebration in Kajiado. On the left of the picture is a young beneficiary of the project and on the right his smiling mother. Sandwiched in the middle is the sponsor, a beaming Gerry in full beaded regalia.

His caption: “The Geordie Masai”.

McHaffie is a former ‘Nation’ journalist