Arnaud de Borchgrave: 1926-2015
Last week, Arnaud de Borchgrave, one of the world’s greatest foreign correspondents and newspaper editors, went to his eternal rest. However, rest will not come naturally to the hyper-active Arnaud de Borchgrave who rarely slept more than four hours each night.
Shortly after de Borchgrave set up the headquarters for The Washington Times, my wife and I were among a group of journalists invited in for a tour. (Penny was working as a stringer for Voice of America. I was editing a newspaper and also working, on assignment, for USA Today.
Explaining that Cold War news gathering was a full-time job, he established his command post in a small loft overlooking the vast newsroom. Inside, Arnaud had a bunk bed and an array of telephones.
He would slip seamlessly from one language to another and from time-zone to time-zone, working the vast number of overseas contacts he accumulated during his previous 25 years as chief foreign correspondent for Newsweek Magazine. Generous to a fault, de Borchgrave shared many of the leads he gathered, launching the careers of many younger reporters.
Born Count Arnaud Paul Charles Marie-Phillippe de Borchgrave d’Altena, he was the son of a Belgian noble and the daughter of a British Army general. But when he talked his way into the British Royal Navy at age 15, Arnaud downplayed his title and became an Ordinary Seaman, serving in World War II on a British warship and taking part in the Normandy landing on D-Day, June 6, 1944. After the war, Arnaud landed a job as Newsweek’s bureau chief in Paris where he met the love of his life, the beautiful Alexandra Villard, the Swiss-educated great-granddaughter of international financier and railroad tycoon, Henry Villard.
Given his aristocratic background, his language skills, and sterling war-record, de Borchgrave was received by European royals and by rulers across the Middle East from Morocco to Syria. His phone calls and visits were welcomed by world leaders such as: Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, Golda Meir, Gamal Nasser, Anwar Sadat, the Saudi royals, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan. He always packed two essential items: a tuxedo and combat fatigues.
As soon as it came off the press, President Reagan sent a White House courier to fetch his personal copy of The Washington Times. Arnaud de Borchgrave played a confidential role in world affairs far beyond that of any journalist of his time.
The last time this columnist saw Arnaud de Borchgrave, we sat around a table in Moscow’s Mezh Hotel as Arnaud arranged to have President Mikhail Gorbachev’s entire cabinet come over to the Mezh to hear a speech on freedom-of-the-press by USA Today founder, Al Neuharth. We did not know Arnaud and Alexandra well; however, we traveled with them to South Korea, to the Soviet Union, and met with them several times in Washington, D.C. It was such an honor to have known a reporter who was with the French at Dien Bien Phu, interviewed North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, and even rode an Israeli tank during the Six Day War of 1967.
The world of journalism lost a giant last week. Pray all journalists would adhere to the high standards set by Arnaud de Borchgrave. Requiescat in pace.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
©2015. William Hamilton.
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