NEW YORK (AP) — Marcus Eliason, an international journalist whose insightful reporting, sparkling prose and skillful editing graced the Associated Press news wires for nearly half a century, has died. He was 75 years old.
He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, developed pneumonia earlier this week in a nursing home and died in a New York hospital on Friday, his family said.
From Israel and the Six-Day War of 1967 to apartheid-era South Africa, via the Afghan battlefields, bloody Belfast, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the surrender of Hong Kong and countless other dates and stories, Eliason witnessed and reported on some of the great world events of the last decades of the 20th century. And when that century ended, it was the Eliason touch that welcomed the new.
“From east to west and north to south, the world greeted the new millennium in a shimmering tapestry of song and light that swept the globe,” he said in the AP lead story. January 1, 2000.
By then he had moved on to his final job, from which he retired in 2014, as the New York-based editor of some of AP’s biggest stories and projects — and, finally, to as editor-in-chief of international feature films, an invaluable guide. for dozens of AP reporters around the world.
“An inescapable type of classic AP is gone,” said former AP president and CEO Louis D. Boccardi. “Even a quick glance at the outline of his missions, both abroad and here, says a lot. If there was a difficult task that required a steady hand, Marcus was often the choice.
“Marcus was a wonderful, erudite, wise, and supportive writer and editor,” said John Daniszewski, former editor of AP International, now AP’s vice president and editor for standards. Longtime correspondent and AP global executive Claude Erbsen observed, “He could make the words sing and dance.”
Jack Marcus Eliason was born on October 19, 1946 to Jewish immigrant parents from Europe and grew up in Bulawayo, Rhodesia. At age 20, after a brief apprenticeship at the Jerusalem Post in Israel, Eliason joined the AP’s office in Tel Aviv as a messenger and “puncher” trainee, or operator of the telex used to transmit stories.
A month later, on June 6, 1967, the Arab-Israeli conflict known as the Six-Day War broke out. When the new employee arrived at work and was reprimanded for not rushing in sooner, he said he had to buy emergency groceries for his mother, dig a bomb shelter in the yard, picking up stranded hitchhikers, etc.
“Don’t just sit there talking about it, kid,” growled an old hand. “Write it.”
He did, launching a successful news career and being promoted to journalist a year later. When asked how he learned to write so well, he replied: “By punching the big copy of the journalists from the AP office in Tel Aviv.
During the 1970s, Eliason’s signature dominated some of the Middle East’s greatest stories: the terrorist attacks and Israeli government unrest, another Arab-Israeli war, Anwar Sadat’s historic 1977 visit to Jerusalem.
“Anouar Sadat, president of Egypt, had landed in Israel on a peace mission. It was 7:59 p.m. on Saturday, November 19,” he reported. “For the Israelis, and no doubt for the Egyptians as well, it was more prodigious than Neil Armstrong’s foot touching the moon.”
In 1978, Eliason was assigned to the PA bureau in Paris, where, among many other assignments, he covered for the Ayatollah-in-exile Ruhollah Khomeini as he led the Islamist revolution in Iran from afar.
After a stint in Israel, Eliason was transferred to London, where he became editor. His astute reporting and masterful prose stood out in one of AP’s earliest “writing desks”, whether covering the bloodshed of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland or s having fun with British eccentrics like “the worst poet in the world”, William McGonagall.
“Scotland makes its poets proud, and no city is without its statue to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott or Robert Louis Stevenson,” wrote Eliason from Dundee. “But mention The Great McGonagall in his hometown and the reactions range from loving laughter to painful silence.”
He then returned to Israel, this time as a bureau chief, leading a team of award-winning journalists and photojournalists in the 1990s, overseeing the uninterrupted flow of information on Palestinian uprisings, intermittent Arab-Israeli peace talks , Israeli political battles and the Scud missile. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacks. From there he moved on to his last international posting, in Hong Kong, where he covered the handover of the British colony to Chinese control in 1997, while writing.
Over the decades, the PA has also tapped the talents of the tall, gregarious Israeli with a South African accent — a high school graduate whose insatiable reading and store of knowledge often amazed his colleagues — for temporary assignments in some of the hottest places in the world, on some of the most important stories of the time.
He reported from Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion of that country in 1979 and from his southern African homeland during the worst of its anti-apartheid upheavals. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the AP sent Eliason to travel along the former Iron Curtain border to interview ordinary citizens and write an in-depth report on the significance of this epic chapter in the history of the Twentieth century.
In 1997, he left Hong Kong for the AP’s headquarters in New York and a job as editor for feature articles from around the world, a recognized master becoming an understanding mentor for a group of young foreign correspondents, from Beijing to Berlin via Buenos Aires.
“He was one of those heroes of journalism that I had as a young writer — those fascinating, unreachable signatures,” said one such correspondent, Ted Anthony, now director of new storytelling and innovation from the AP newsroom. “Then he became the greatest editor I’ve ever had, an amazing mix of encouragement and execution. And a dear friend.
Upon retiring after 47 uninterrupted years with the AP, Eliason remarked, “I’m a guy who’s worked my whole life. No scholarships, no sabbaticals, no parental leave. I was way too excited for that.
Leaving his office for the last time, he heard the vast newsroom of the AP New York erupt in applause. “It was a gracious and spontaneous gesture that reminded me once again how lucky I was,” he later wrote. Said Boccardi: “It was the AP that got lucky.”
Eliason is survived by his wife, Eva, a daughter, Avital, and a son, David.
Charles J. Hanley was a writer and editor for The Associated Press from 1968 to 2011.
Charles J. Hanley, The Associated Press