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In loving memory of John McBeth

 John McBeth
May 31 1944 – December 7 2023
Of all the foreign correspondents who have worked in southeast Asia over the past six decades, none surpassed John McBeth in dedication to his craft and the esteem and friendship of his colleagues.
As a young and adventurous journalist from Taranaki, he left the Auckland Star en route to London. He never got there. Stopping off by chance in Indonesia he found a new Asian home and field for his talents.
Working in Bangkok for a variety of publications and agencies, he was an early recruit to Asiaweek, then in 1979 joined the Far Eastern Economic Review where he was to remain until its 2004 closure. He was in a Bangkok bureau with such talents as Rodney Tasker and Paisal Sricharatchnya and close friend of Neil Davis, the noted war cameraman killed in an abortive Thai coup. Eased out of his Bangkok comfort zone to Seoul, he distinguished himself covering the turmoil and political change of the late 80s and, with colleague Nayan Chanda, scooping the world on the North Korean nuclear programme.
From there it was to Manila and a still much-quoted series on the nation’s regional warlords. He then had a medical issue which resulted in the amputation of one leg. This trauma would have killed the spirits of most journalists, but with the never ending support of his wife Yuli Ismartono, the correspondent for Tempo he had met in Bangkok, he overcame the challenge. It is hard to overstate the importance of their bond.
They moved to Jakarta where he again distinguished himself with coverage of the latter Suharto years and then turmoil which followed his downfall. After the Review’s closure he wrote a regular column on Indonesia for the Straits Times and contributed to other publications and in 2011 wrote an entertaining book accurately entitled “Reporter: Forty Years Covering Asia”.

He had some strong opinions but never let them get in the way of accurate reporting delivered cleanly and on time.

As a colleague, he was always good company. Good friends included not just his immediate workmates but correspondents at large, not least FCC immediate past president Keith Richburg.

He seemed indestructible and was in fine form when I saw him just three months ago. But such is aging. Now we mourn with Yuli the passing of someone who has left us with so many good memories and a permanent record of good journalism.

Philip Bowring

Obituary: Tad Stoner – ‘Hot as a pistol, but cool inside’: journalist, publican, guitarist and very much more

By Paul Ehrlich

Tad – Bartine Albert Stoner III – was a character of the highest order. He was loud, witty, smart and kind-hearted, though he would have denied this with a deep, full-throated laugh. What he wouldn’t deny is an affinity for whimsical braces (aka suspenders), a sartorial flourish for which he became renowned.

Born in Philadelphia in 1951, Tad attended Swarthmore High School and Pennsylvania State University. He later studied journalism as a postgraduate at the University of Missouri, where he met his future wife, Iris. “Tad was a cutie,” she recalls. “When I met him, he had long hair and the most amazing blue eyes. Hard to resist!” 

Tad travelled to Beijing in 1981; Iris arrived six months later, and they were married the day after she landed. Following two years sub-editing at Xinhua News Agency, they spent a holiday in Hong Kong and fell in love with the place. “It had everything Beijing didn’t,” says Iris, “including a vibrant press, an abundance of energy and a thriving entertainment scene. Plus, back then, it was free of the oppression that was prevalent all over China from both a journalistic and social perspective.”

The couple moved to Peng Chau, living in the same hilltop home for 20 years, raising their three children – Erin, Ben and Adam – and, at one point, co-owning and operating The Forest bar and restaurant. “It was the first place in Hong Kong to serve the Belgian wheat beer, Hoegaarden, which required effort to ensure its continued freshness,” recalls Iris. “Tad would happily regale each patron with the story of the beer, regardless of whether they were ordering it, asked about it or were there for a completely different drink.

Iris and Tad outside their house in Peng Chau, around 2004.

“He also was in charge of the music and kept a tight rein on his CD collection. As time went on, he loosened up a bit and would take requests. But when Jerry Garcia died in 1995, he played his very extensive collection of Grateful Dead CDs nonstop for several days, which did not go down well with all of the regulars.”

A talented guitarist himself – playing his much-loved Martin acoustic – he’d join fellow journo friends dubbed “The Stiff Picks”: Nigel Armstrong on bass, Robin Lynam on guitar, Karin Malmstrom on fiddle, and Steve Shellum on steel guitar and banjo. “Tad always led the way with a seemingly bottomless well of songs and was also a strong vocalist,” says Shellum.

Tad’s first job in Hong Kong found him reporting for Commercial Radio. He also wrote for the South China Morning Post, TIME and The Hollywood Reporter. He put in a stint as executive speechwriter and corporate communications officer for STAR TV, and later became chief reporter for the Eastern Express. After selling The Forest in 1998, he joined PCCW as corporate communications officer.

After more than two decades in Asia, in 2005 the couple decided they wanted to be closer to their ageing parents and their daughter, who was at university in the US, but they didn’t want to live there. Iris had a connection to the Cayman Islands through a friend, and after a successful interview with the then-daily newspaper, Caymanian Compass, they moved there and worked as reporters. Other jobs followed.

Over the last few years, Tad renewed his focus on playing the guitar, despite having lost a few fingers to a rare, chronic autoimmune skin disorder. “He and our son Adam practised enough to develop quite a repertoire of mostly classic rock,” says Iris. “For the last year or so, they performed together at open-mic nights every week around Grand Cayman.” 

Tad bravely fought several medical battles over the years. That he lived with courage and grace and humour throughout is an inspiration. 

Tad died on 17 June, aged 70. He leaves behind his wife Iris, daughter Erin and son-in-law Chris, sons Ben and Adam, grandchildren Max and Lyla – who called him GrandTad – mother Elizabeth Welsh and brother Jonathan.

Obituary: Ewen Campbell – ‘A newspaperman, and a brilliant one at that’

By Jon Marsh

Warm, funny, generous… A great colleague, an even better friend… The bloke you wanted beside you in the office as deadlines loomed, and sitting next to you in the pub afterwards. The tributes to Ewen Campbell have flowed thick and fast since Hong Kong lost one of its most talented and best-loved journalists.

An FCC stalwart, he lunched at the same table in Bert’s with the same close friends almost every Friday for more than 15 years; popular rants included Trump, Brexit and Boris. On Sunday afternoons, he was a regular at the China Bear in Mui Wo.

Hong Kong took to Ewen the moment he stepped off the plane in 1986 to join the South China Morning Post. And, despite a typically brutal introduction to Murdoch journalism – he was shafted before he even started – he returned the favour to the city with all that lust for life everyone loved in him.

Hired as sports editor, he arrived to find that seat taken and was shuffled off to the back bench before eventually taking over the sports editor’s role. At the time, Murdoch executives ruled the Post via a mix of fear and stupidity. Ewen (among others) took particular relish in winding up an especially thick deputy editor nicknamed BIFFO – Big, Ignorant Fucker from Oz.

Ewen next found himself at the centre of the launch of Eastern Express by the Oriental Press Group in 1994 where editor Steve Vines was quick to recruit him as production editor.

They were exciting, stressful times. “The launch deadline was very tight and the new technology shaky,” says former managing editor Jon Marsh. “His relentless energy and extraordinary ability to get people to work together pulled us through. He was the glue. Without Ewen, Eastern Express would never have met that deadline. He was a force of nature, and a wonderful friend and colleague.”

Despite the teething problems, the new daily was an editorial success. Relations with the management were at first cordial, with chairman CK Ma playing the role of generous patron. Over drinks one evening Ma asked: “Would you like a cigar?” Ewen replied: “A car?” Amazed, Ma countered: “You want a car?” He then gave him a second-hand runabout, a very slight upgrade on his old banger.

However, bolting an English-language newspaper onto a large, family-run Chinese newspaper group proved to be fraught with difficulties. Relations with management soon soured, leading to an exodus of senior staff, and it closed within two years.

By then Ewen was in Bangkok, working on another newspaper, Asia Times. Launched in 1995, the project was the brainchild of Sondhi Limthongkul, a flamboyant Thai media mogul. Again, Ewen helped muscle the publication into life despite working with an eccentric, almost comically inexperienced production team. But the newspaper suffered commercial challenges and fell victim to the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Next stop was Auckland, where Ewen became sports editor of The New Zealand Herald before returning to Hong Kong in the early 2000s. He went on to work for the iMail and the satirical magazine Spike before re-joining the SCMP, leaving as night editor in 2012. Ewen later moved into corporate communications before helping to resuscitate the online version of Asia Times as an editorial consultant.

At the start of his career in England, he initially worked for the Whitley Bay Guardian and The Northern Echo and in 1979 joined the Daily Star. Close friend Gordon Watts said: “Ewen was always a newspaper man, and a brilliant one at that. He was also one of life’s good guys.” Another former colleague, Steve Wolstencroft, nailed it when he said: “There aren’t many people in the sometimes-backstabbing world of newspapers who never have a bad word said about them. Ewen was one of them. He was the bloke you’d want to have beside you in the office and next to you at the bar in the pub.”

Ewen died from cancer last July, aged 69. He leaves his beloved partner Teri, daughters Sarah and Molly, son Hamish and grandchildren Malcolm and Edie.

Obituary: Suzanne Pepper – The China Watcher who China Watchers Watched

By Frank Ching

Suzanne Pepper, a noted China scholar who called Hong Kong home for more than half a century, died in late June, days after a week-long hospital stay for a battery of tests. She was 83 years old.

Suzanne arrived in Hong Kong in the 1960s to study Chinese, and promptly met fellow student Virupax Ganesh Kulkarni – known as VG – an Indian army officer attached to his country’s consulate. The pair decided to marry. VG left government service to become a journalist. He and Suzanne tied the knot in New York in June 1970.

VG studied journalism at Columbia University and interned at United Press International. Suzanne got a PhD in politics from the University of California at Berkeley.

The couple returned to Hong Kong in the 1970s. VG began his journalistic career while Suzanne renewed her affiliation with the Universities Service Centre (USC) on Argyle Street, where she had previously done research. It had been set up in 1963 by American scholars to study Mao Zedong’s revolutionary China and was funded by various foundations.

In a history of the centre that Suzanne wrote in 1988, she said: “In its prime… the USC served as the main research base in the field for several generations of China scholars… as interest quickened during the late 1960s and 1970s, a period of affiliation with the USC became de rigueur for American social scientists in particular.”

She was to be associated with the centre for the rest of her life. 

As John Dolfin, the USC’s longest serving director, said of Suzanne, she and the USC “have become synonymous in the minds of virtually everyone in the international China studies field.” 

Hong Kong was long the China-watching capital of the world, and western scholarly efforts centred on the USC.

However Beijing was highly suspicious. On 27 December 1979, the People’s Daily, in an article on a different subject, mentioned in passing that the USC was a “national front organisation of spies.”

This remarkable charge was followed by a rare retraction the following month and a letter of apology to the centre’s director.

The opening-up of China led scholars – and foundations – to shift their interest northward. The USC’s loss of financial support led to its closure in 1988, when its holdings were taken over by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Suzanne, too, moved to the university.

CUHK kept the centre going for three more decades. Last year, its holdings were placed within the university’s library, but Suzanne, a fiery writer and speaker who lived up to her patronymic, managed to cling onto her perch.

 She authored major books on the Chinese civil war and education reform in the 1980s. In 2008, she brought out Keeping Democracy at Bay: Hong Kong and the Challenge of Chinese Political Reform.

VG died in 2014, after which the FCC made Suzanne an honorary lifetime member.

About that time, Suzanne started her blog, Hong Kong Focus, and began publishing articles in the media. When Hong Kong Free Press launched in 2015, she became a contributing writer, providing analyses on political affairs; she later became a columnist, bringing her knowledge of China to bear while analysing Hong Kong politics.

In a recent piece after John Lee emerged as Beijing’s choice for Chief Executive, Suzanne examined the implications of the move. 

“Beijing is making the rules and Beijing is deciding up front who will be Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive,” she wrote. “No more niceties about public opinion, consultations and the like. There must be no doubt as to the source of authority for this decision.”

Suzanne was at the university six days a week. She did not have a computer at home. She also did not have a mobile phone.

This made it difficult for people to contact her during her final days. Several, including her sister, Patricia in California – another sister, Katie, lives in New York – and close friends Jean Hung and John Dolfin, were able to speak to her. Their later inability to reach her resulted in the police being called, who subsequently found her body at home.  

Suzanne’s death brought forth a torrent of accolades from the academic community. 

“Suzanne Pepper deserves honour in our field, and I believe that scholarly attention to her works will increase further in later years,” said Lynn White, a Princeton University scholar. “We will miss this spicy person too.”

He won’t be the only one. 

Obituary: Robin Lynam – ‘He put the “Gentle” Into Gentleman’

By Andrew Dembina

“Van Morrison’s playing reminds us that he used to be quite a sharp acoustic guitarist… a welcome inclusion on an engaging, enthusiastic but inessential set.” So concluded an incisive review of a then new CD called The Skiffle Sessions, published in the May 2000 issue of HMV’s now defunct magazine The Voice, penned by the late long-time Hong Kong resident and part of the furniture at the FCC’s Main Bar for decades: Robin Piers Lynam.

While pulling no punches in his music writing – mostly on rock, jazz and blues – for a great many publications, Lynam reached his conclusions via a wide, long-accrued knowledge that was closely rivaled by his in-depth understanding of food and (alcoholic) drink, another of his preferred areas of focus as a contributing writer.

While he would often tell it like he saw it in media or social gatherings, Lynam was not one to put someone down for the sake of it – generally, that is. On occasion, I recall him reaching boiling point when a know-it-all at a media gathering veered into verbose overdrive – or, even worse, got a fact wrong.

L to R: Angelica Cheung, Mark Graham & Robin.
Photo by Steve Knipp.

Anyone who knew him well loved this acerbic side of the otherwise exceptionally courteous, intelligent and witty Lynam. He “put the ‘gentle’ into gentleman” was one of the most apt tributes to appear on the Facebook page of Karin Malmstrom, his long-term partner, following his premature passing in the early hours of 20 February. A struggle with prostate cancer which shifted to his colon, bouts of chemotherapy and finally, ensuing surgical procedures were to take an accumulated toll. Appreciative remarks about Lynam, in social media and elsewhere, also expressed shock that he was gone far too soon, having just turned 63.

L to R: Karin and Robin. Photo by Chris Davis.

Despite illness hampering his activities for a while, Lynam had managed to catch up with his good friend and host of a longstanding Christmas get-together, Chris Davis, editor of Banking Today, in Hong Kong. “Lynam was a great pal for more than 30 years – it was not unusual to see each other two or three times each week,” he says. “He and Karin joined us for our journos’ and friends’ Christmas lunch for 20 years or more. 

“Last year, he had to see us just before that lunch, as he couldn’t be exposed to many people [in his condition]. Previously, he was always the first to arrive and last to leave – his conversation was always as eloquent on his first glass as it was after his third bottle. With a pithy comment, he could say or write in one sentence what might take others 1,000 words.

“They both also played music at my wedding party in 2005. I miss him so much – he was one of my closest friends.”

L to R: The late Gopi Gopalen with FCC pals Bob Davis & Robin Lynam. 2011. Photo Steven Knipp.

Davis travelled on a number of press trips over the years, which were made all the more colourful for Lynam’s presence. One of Davis’ fondest memories is when “as someone with absolutely no interest whatsoever in sport – he actually went to the Rugby World Cup in Australia [in 2003], which I was also attending. He’d said ‘no thanks’ to the invitation from the PR company at first, but then they told him there would be some wine to try.” That changed Lynam’s mind and they had a great time – even at the rugby games.

Lynam was born in London in February 1959. Both his father and brother served in the British armed forces and he spent part of his early childhood in Tripoli, Libya, while his father was posted there. Family bonds were strong. “Robin was very close to his mum and dad,” says Malmstrom, “and he adored his [late] brother Jeremy [who was stationed in Hong Kong for some years].” Lynam attended Dulwich College Prep School and Cranbrook School, before moving to University College London to study English literature. He was also very fond of his cousin, the English actress Jenny Agutter, who he would occasionally see in London.

“My best memory of Robin is through knowing him as a child,” recalls Agutter, who was six years his senior. “Spending time with him over many years, I think always of his warmth and humour. When my husband and I visited Hong Kong, we had the benefit of his wealth of knowledge about food, and the joy of discovering great restaurants with him. I loved being in his company.”

Bernie Kingston, a young tutor at Cranbrook when Lynam was there, recalls: “He told me that he played guitar, and I told him I had always been fond of The Shadows and could play Apache note-perfect, so for fun we formed Bernie and The Jets, which may have been his first band.”

British TV presenter Sankha Guha, who studied at UCL at the same time, says: “Lynam was one of my closest friends over the years and across continents. From the moment we met, we plotted the hijacking of the university newspaper together.”

Upon arrival in 1982 in Hong Kong, Lynam’s first work was for Hong Kong Tatler and Hong Kong Business magazines. The editor of Tatler at that time, Steve Knipp, recalls his impression of the budding contributor: “a lovely guy, he was a true Edwardian-era English gent.

“As our arts and culture correspondent, he penned a stack of insightful, beautifully written film and book reviews, plus profiles of visiting jazz musicians.

“Lynam told me he had zero interest in ever taking a fixed staff post. I think installing him in a petite office cubicle would have been like trying to put a seagull in a birdcage – very noisy, quite messy and short-lived.

“Later, when I joined Travel & Leisure, I sent him on trips, including to then-exotic Shanghai on an old rust-bucket coastal liner. He loved it.”

While Knipp agrees with the consensus that Lynam was a kind and gentle fellow, he recalls some fearless tendencies: “On a press trip to Spain, he and I found ourselves in a dingy waterfront dive in Barcelona, well past midnight. The scruffy, unshaven barman looked like a super-sized Tony Soprano. Lynam smiled at him and said something in debauched Spanish; the scowling barman walked away, returning a minute later with two glasses and a bottle of sparkling white Cava wine.

“Lynam poured two glasses, sniffed his, then instantly held up his hand, waving to the brute behind the bar. I feverishly asked what the problem was. He glanced at me through the gloom and said, ‘Mr Knipp, as a colonial American, you may not be aware of this, but our wine has clearly not been properly chilled. The barman must bring us another bottle, promptly, and at the proper temperature.’

“Thankfully, I was able to convince him to let this late-night barbarism slide.”

Malmstrom, a strategic advisor to Cotton Council International who arrived in Hong Kong in 1980, met Lynam at the FCC. They became a romantic item in 1996, having both worked together planning events on club committees when she was Second Vice President. “At that time, one of his Mind Your Head bandmates retired and they invited me to join [playing an electric blue violin]. Being in his company sparked so much happiness.

“He was always so thoughtful,” she continues, describing their blossoming as a couple. “He made me feel very appreciated. He would surprise me with all sorts of information, insights about so many topics, especially arcane facts about 1960s and 1970s musicians and old movies.”

The couple enjoyed travel but with different preferences: “He was used to five-star hotels, I didn’t mind a backpacker hostel,” Malmstrom says. “We met in the middle and enjoyed years of globetrotting. He loved Paris and each time we visited he insisted on making a pilgrimage to Harry’s New York Bar [known for its live jazz, as much as its cocktails].”

Other journeys took them to North Korea, Cuba and the Blues Highway from Chicago to New Orleans – in time for its annual jazz festival. “We were fortunate to squeeze in possibly the best trip – just before Covid hit two years ago – when we lazily cruised aboard The Strand Hotel’s luxury riverboat on the Irrawaddy.

Lynam was formerly married to Gillian Smith “and they have remained good friends throughout the years,” says Malmstrom.

And how would Malmstrom most want Lynam remembered? “He was a kind, clever and caring soul whose wit and humour filled people’s lives with joy,” she replies, which seems spot-on – as long as some fool was not spouting nonsense within earshot for too long.

Obituary: A Toast to Ian Verchere

By Philip Bowring

Ian Verchere, who died on 17 July in England aged 83, was one of the most agreeable and versatile journalists I have known. A restless enthusiasm and a wide variety of intellectual interests took him to many places, but he started out in Hong Kong doing his national service in the army in the late 1950s which led to his first job as a sports reporter on the South China Morning Post. Then it was off to La Sorbonne in Paris for two years to perfect his French, which led to a job as tour manager for Thomas Cook and a great deal of travel around Europe; he also spoke passable Spanish having studied in Barcelona.

The travel bug and journalism merged when the travel trade’s premier journal, Travel Trade Gazette, hired him. Ian then became the editor of Asia Travel Trade (ATT) following a chance meeting at a Singapore travel conference in 1972 with the publisher, bringing him back to Hong Kong. I arrived in the then-colony the following year and we quickly became friends. When he hired Murray Bailey to join him at ATT, Ian persuaded me to let Murray share my flat.

Ian was by then editing Insight, a monthly business-focused magazine which was, at least for a while, a journalistic success even if not a commercial one. Its in-depth look at business was a first for English-language monthly journalism in 1970s Hong Kong, a period that saw a great flowering of regional journalism with the launch of Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek and the Asian Wall Street Journal, among others. ATT and Insight gave him great opportunities to travel in the region and satisfy his wide and ever-growing interests.

From the May 1979 issue of The Correspondent magazine.

While living in Stanley, Ian also took up sailing a Hobie – a small catamaran which he launched off the beach at To Tei Wan. I was also living in Stanley, and also had a dinghy which I kept on the main beach, so I saw Ian quite often – though we did not make a habit of visiting the Smugglers Inn, then strictly for the squaddies from Stanley Fort.

In 1979 Bank of America lured Ian away from journalism with a job in Tokyo as vice president of corporate communications. He worked there for five years, then moved to New York. But journalism remained his first love and he eventually returned to London, working for Janes’ aviation magazines, the Economist Intelligence Unit and The European newspaper (which made a valiant but failed effort (1990-1998) to persuade English-language readers to learn more about what was happening in Europe). He also freelanced for numerous national dailies.

Ian went on do much sailing and travelling in Europe, the Caribbean, the US and across to Fiji. His adventures in Fiji led to a semi-autobiographical novel, Mugged in Tahiti, a tale of fun and games in the South Pacific. He also wrote Sailing into American History, a journey along the east coast’s Intracoastal Waterway which shed light on the early decades of the US.

The avid traveller was also very much at home in Buckinghamshire where I last saw him for lunch at a pub on the Grand Union canal. A memorial service was held at St Mary the Virgin, Ivinghoe, on 10 August 2021, followed by drinks at The Old Swan in Cheddington. I drank a toast to his memory at the Smugglers Inn.

Remembering Jonathan Mirsky

By Stephen Vines

Jonathan Mirsky was never a conventional journalist, nor conventional anything else. He died in London in September at the age of 88. 

For many years he was among the best known China watchers in the hacking business and won the British Press Awards International Reporter of the Year title in 1989 for his Tiananmen massacre coverage in The Observer

In Beijing he was “rewarded” with a savage beating at the hands of the police while covering the protests.

He later moved to The Times and was based in Hong Kong from 1993 to 1998. Towards the end, Mirsky fell out with the paper’s increasingly accommodating attitude towards Beijing ordered by owner Rupert Murdoch, who had big ambitions for expanding business in China.

Mirsky became a familiar figure at the FCC, where a lack of alcoholic consumption and an enthusiasm for discussion – not forgetting an impressive stock of Jewish jokes – marked him out as a not so run-of-the-mill member.

Mirsky, or Minsky as I called him after he was mistakenly identified as such by aristocratic Times Editor William Rees-Mogg, came to journalism through the circuitous route of academia and never quite lost his affection for the long form preferred in universities.

I got to know him back in the 1980s when we were both working for The Observer in London. He was an eccentric character in a newsroom where eccentricity was the norm. At the time I was engaged in the hard-edged area of labour reporting, while Mirsky was pontificating on China from afar. 

Infuriatingly to us hacks who thought that the only kind of reporting that mattered came from on-the-spot observation, he managed to produce superb and highly readable analysis which often outdid the work of Beijing-based correspondents.

When we were later both based in Hong Kong, we occasionally joined forces for interviews. It was an exasperating experience as Mirsky liked to be discursive and, with his genuine interest for people and what made them tick, would spend a great deal of time talking to the interviewees about their lives, while I was impatient to extract the news line of the day.

The Mirsky method often worked far better than the more conventional news-gathering approach, and he made firm friends with many of the people he interviewed. Among them were the Dalai Lama, who wrote to him shortly before his death, and Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last Governor – a combination of friendships likely to confirm the worst misgivings of an ever-suspicious government in Beijing.

Mirsky came from an aggressively secular intellectual leftist New York Jewish family and quickly graduated towards left-wing politics both as a student and an academic. It was this leftism that led him to become one of the early visitors to China in 1972 when the regime was keen to cultivate fellow travellers.

It would however be inaccurate to describe Mirsky as an apologist for the regime, because a sharp eye for the reality of Mao’s China and an uncontainable independence of mind defied such a simple characterisation.

In later years, most especially after Tiananmen, he became a prominent critic and was banned from entering the PRC. To describe Mirsky as being somehow “anti-China” would be a gross misconception because he had a deep love of all things Chinese and almost certainly a deeper knowledge of China’s culture and history than many of the most avid “patriots” who flaunt their love of the nation these days.

Above all Jonathan Mirsky was a mensch. It’s a Yiddish term that covers everything from friendship to humour to kindness yet is still inadequate to convey the true nature of the man.

Obituary: Author Dr Feng Chi-shun, a ‘truly talented and diversely accomplished man’

Paul Murray pays tribute to his friend, Dr Feng Chi-shun.

Chi passed peacefully early afternoon on Friday, March 8 after a particularly debilitating illness which robbed him of his considerable communicative powers.

Originally from Wuhan, he came to Hong Kong, as so many did, as a result of the Mainland Civil War.

His insightful novel, Diamond Hill, describes his early years and school days growing up with his family in a tough squatter settlement at a time when Hong Kong’s population was rapidly expanding.

A clever man, he was no isolated ‘bookworm’. He enjoyed sport and socialising, keenly and astutely observing the world around him.

Chi did his Medical Degree at the University of Hong Kong, moving to the USA to train as a pathologist initially in New York, then Philadelphia.

Chi married and had three children in the USA before returning to Hong Kong to work and settle.

He remarried in Hong Kong in 1997. His wife, Cathy Hillborn, loyal and loving, was with him daily throughout his last dark journey.

Not only was Chi a well-respected pathologist but in his later years became a prize-winning and best-selling novelist. His most recent work Three Wishes in Bardo, perhaps his best, takes us from Hong Kong to New York, California, Texas, back to New York and, ultimately, to Hong Kong. An adventurous, powerful and spiritual journey encapsulating the triumph of human qualities over malice and….. Tibetan Bardo – a state after death when the conscious mind actively persists on leaving the physical state.

Chi, a popular, elegant and witty friend. A fixture and feature at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. It’s hard to believe we won’t see you and enjoy your company there anymore.

A truly talented and diversely accomplished man.

Profoundly missed by your loving wife, your sisters, children, and many friends.

At peace now, Chi – your muse at peace too.

Watch Dr Chi at the launch of his book, Hong Kong Noir

Obituary: Anthony Paul, distinguished foreign correspondent and editor who remained a roving reporter at heart

By Brodie Paul and William Mellor

One of Asia Pacific’s most distinguished foreign correspondents, two-time FCC President and life member Anthony Paul, passed away in Brisbane on July 14, aged 81.

Partially obscured, Tony Paul in the shadow of Ambassador Graham Martin as the press crowd around the last US envoy to South Vietnam aboard the USS Blue Ridge following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Partially obscured, Tony Paul in the shadow of Ambassador Graham Martin as the press crowd around the last US envoy to South Vietnam aboard the USS Blue Ridge following the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Even among the pantheon of FCC greats, Tony’s career was unique. As a war correspondent for the Reader’s Digest – at the time the world’s largest selling magazine with a circulation of 23 million – he covered the 1975 fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh. Then, having reinvented himself as a business writer and editor, he went on to chronicle the rise of numerous other Asian cities and economies as the region boomed, most recently as an influential columnist with Fortune Magazine.

A 1977 book Tony co-wrote, Murder of a Gentle Land, exposed Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia at a time when many Asia-watchers remained in denial. Subsequent scoops included discovering that the leader of the post-war Malayan communist insurgency against British rule, Chin Peng, had not died in exile in China as many journalists believed, but was indeed alive and well and living just across the Thai border in Hatyai. In 1997, Tony tracked Chin Peng down and interviewed him over lunch at the British Club in Bangkok – an irony both of them enjoyed.

Based in Hong Kong for much of the period between 1972 and 1998, Tony was elected FCC President in 1977-78, then re-elected for a second term the following year. He was an honorary life member not only of the FCC, but also of the FCCT in Thailand and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. During years covering conflict in the region, Tony had also acquired an enviable list of military and intelligence contacts, as a result of which he became the only journalist we know to have enjoyed membership of both the FCC and the Special Forces Club in London.

Tony Paul's FCC membership card. Tony Paul’s FCC membership card.

Indeed, when recent changes to the Special Forces Club membership rules were proposed limiting membership to only ex-services types, it was pointed out by a senior member who knew Tony in Asia that Tony would qualify for more campaign medals than many current members.

Apart from covering the Indochina conflict, he also reported on the Soviet-Afghan War (1978-82), and communist insurgencies in Thailand, Malaya, and the Philippines. After the 2002 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Tony, by then well into his 60s, returned to the fray with a reporting trip to Baghdad. Denied insurance and expenses for body armour by the Straits Times, for whom in semi-retirement he them wrote columns, Tony grew a bushy beard for protection to pass more easily as a local. He used to same ruse while visiting Pakistan to interview the then military dictator, Pervez Musharraf.

Tony faced his own last battle as courageously as he reported wars. After learning on June 29 that he had stage 4 oesophagal cancer, he instructed that he be allowed to die as speedily as possible with no visitors except close family, no chemotherapy, no fuss and no memorial service.

Never a dull moment spent with Tony, and many of those ‘moments’ were long lunches.

To many FCC correspondent and journalist members a generation younger, the tall, handsome and avuncular Tony Paul was a friend and mentor, often delving into his vast contacts book to help those less well connected. He also worked closely with them. During his spell as Asia correspondent for the Reader’s Digest and frustrated by the monthly publication’s long lead times, he persuaded his bosses to buy the financially struggling Hong Kong-based Asiaweek magazine and allow him to join the Asiaweek team as a roving writer, feeding his need for more frequent scoops.

Then, after leaving the Digest, he became the founding editor of two other high-quality Asian publications, Business Tokyo, which he edited both out of Japan and New York, and Asia Inc., which he launched in Hong Kong in 1992. Asia Inc. subsequently won the Citibank Pan Asia Journalism Award three years in succession.

Journalists Tony hired or encouraged during those years were among many who paid tribute to him on social media. “Never a dull moment spent with Tony, and many of those ‘moments’ were long lunches,” former FCC and FCCT President Thomas Crampton wrote. “He helped me a great deal at the start of my career.”

Veteran AFP correspondent Ian Timberlake commented: “Tony graciously helped me when I was a green and impoverished stringer in Jakarta.”

Tony Paul in the Sichuan earthquake zone in 2011. Tony Paul in the Sichuan earthquake zone in 2011.

Tony’s beneficence extended way beyond assisting colleagues. Amid the turmoil of the fall of Saigon, he succeeded against the odds in getting his interpreter Son Van Nguyen and the Nguyen family on a plane to the U.S. “The Nguyen clan owe everything to Tony and the Paul family,” Gigi Nguyen wrote from New York. “We are so grateful to you and love you dearly.”

Typically, Tony self-deprecatingly played down his role in the Nguyen drama. As Saigon evacuated, he recalled how he had used his bulk to leap on a bus besieged by fleeing Americans leaving for the airport and used his 6’ 2” (188 cm) frame to brace himself at the door of the bus. “This bus goes nowhere without Son and his family,” Tony declared, amid protests that the vehicle was exclusively for Americans. Only after much pushing and shoving did he hear a voice from the back of the bus yelling: “Tony, Tony it’s OK…we are already on board.” During the commotion and unnoticed by Tony, the diminutive family members had slipped in under his arms.

Tony lost all his luggage in the evacuation, arriving on the U.S.S. Blue Ridge with only a typewriter, two opium pipes, a South Vietnamese general’s hat, one boot (he had lost the other under a helicopter skid) and the Nguyens. On arrival at the ship’s registration desk for evacuees, a marine officer looked at the one shoed man carrying opium pipes and wearing a general’s hat and observed: “Who the fuck are they sending us now?”

Tony also delighted in telling of his first failed attempt to return to a besieged Phnom Penh days before it fell to Pol Pot’s forces in April 1975. Arriving at Bangkok airport on March 31 with what he though was a confirmed reservation on an Air Cambodge Caravelle, Tony was told by a check-in clerk, giggling in embarrassment, that the flight has been cancelled. When Tony demanded to know why, the clerk offered two reasons: Firstly, the Khmer Rouge were shelling the runway. Secondly, the pilot was having a nervous breakdown.

Armed with a Reader’s Digest expense account lavish beyond the dreams of avarice, Tony retreated to the comfort of Bangkok’s Oriental Hotel, where he booked into the Jim Thompson suite and wined and dined extravagantly with a diplomat contact at the Normandie Grill, knowing that if he eventually made it into Phnom Penh, accounting for expenses would be the least of his problems. The following day, he returned to the airport to be told that the pilot’s nerves had calmed sufficiently for the flight to take off into the rocket barrage, although the counter clerk cautioned: “It’s one-way. No return ticket.”

Tony took the flight anyway, wrote a beautiful feature on the despair, corruption and heroism on display during the death throes of the doomed city, then at the last minute decided to join the final evacuation so as to head back to Saigon to witness the  fall of the South Vietnamese capital some two weeks later.

A page from a 1979 edition of The Correspondent in which Tony Paul can be seen on the right. A page from a 1979 edition of The Correspondent in which Tony Paul can be seen on the right.

Anthony Marcus Paul was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1937 and began his career on the local daily, The Courier Mail, in 1955. Proudly descended from convicts transported from England on the First Fleet of prison ships that arrived in Sydney in 1788 – one for stealing “a golden sixpence”, another for purloining 10 yards of cloth – Tony nevertheless decided his career prospects were better elsewhere. Arriving in the U.S. in the early 1960s, he met and married Anne, his wife of 53 years, and got a job at the Digest.

In 1972, the Digest posted him to Hong Kong, where his adventures really began. Asked once by an envious colleague how he acquired so many contacts in the region so quickly – especially amongst military brass and spooks – Tony replied that although he worked for an American publication, his Australian nationality had denied him the sort of access to CIA intelligence that U.S.-born reporters could expect. To compensate, he focused on wooing the intelligence services of U.S. allies in the region who were getting much of their information from the CIA anyway. In countries such as Thailand and South Korea, the young officers he cultivated in the Vietnam war years subsequently became powerful figures. Perhaps that was why Tony twice gained audiences with Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej and also interviewed the South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee.

Still, he didn’t give those contacts an easy ride. One of his first cover stories after he launched Asia Inc was on the business dealings of the Thai military, titled Khaki Commerce. The cover image was a sinister illustration of a hard-faced general.

Even when he was supposed to be sitting in an editor’s chair in Hong Kong, Tony couldn’t resist going back on the road. When one of his reporters, Bill Mellor, and a photographer, traveling under cover in northern Burma for Asia, Inc in 1993, discovered and photographed a starving chain gang of political prisoners digging a road from Kengtung to the Thai border, Tony realised he had a great cover story – Burma’s Road of Shame. But he also realised that more reporting was needed in the then capital, Rangoon – a city closed in those days to foreign reporters. With his news crew headed in the opposite direction for another urgent assignment across the border in China, Tony promptly jumped on a plane and flew to Rangoon to do the additional reporting himself.

Tony with wife Anne at their son Bruce's wedding Tony with wife Anne at their son Bruce’s wedding.

In countries that weren’t U.S. allies, Tony’s engaging personality served him well. In Hanoi and Beijing, for example, he could easily trade war stories with high-ranking government media minders even though they had been on the opposite sides of the front lines. When he received an invitation from Cambodia’s Prince Norodom Sihanouk to a party the then exiled monarch was throwing in Pyongyang, Tony woke up the North Korean ambassador to Beijing at 11pm the night before to obtain the necessary visa to attend. He got it.

Indeed, he could get almost anyone to open up. One of his more, shall we say, colourful contacts was an Asian intelligence agent operating under diplomatic cover who wasn’t averse to using force to extract confessions. “Extract” being the operative word. Tony nicknamed him Fingernails.

Tony is survived by his wife, Anne, a distinguished gemmologist who loves Asia and, particularly, Hong Kong, as much as Tony did. Their two sons are, Brodie, a Mandarin-speaking entrepreneur who has worked both in Shanghai and Australia, and Bruce, a pilot with Cathay Dragon. Between them, Bruce and Brodie and their wives have five children.

This obituary could go on forever. There are so many more anecdotes about Tony to tell. Most, though, are best retold, not here, but over drinks at the FCC bar or over the sort of long lunches Tony so much enjoyed.

Anne Paul would love that. In her announcement of Tony’s death, she noted that he didn’t want a memorial service because enough had been written and little more needed to be said.  “He would be pleased if you raised a glass to good memories,” she wrote. “In lieu of flowers, contributions to your favourite charity – or a good bottle of wine for yourselves.”

Tony Paul, RIP.

Kevin Egan: Friends, colleagues and students remember the legal eagle ‘so generous of heart’

Kevin Egan, the FCC’s 2nd Vice President, died on Sunday night following a battle with cancer. He was 70, writes Jane Moir.

Kevin Egan, a life member of the FCC and a long-standing board member. Photo: ©2018 Robin Moyer Kevin Egan, a life member of the FCC and a long-standing board member. Photo: ©2018 Robin Moyer

Fellow members, friends and colleagues paid tribute to Egan as a tenacious criminal advocate with a big heart whose legal skirmishes kept local newspapers in business over the years.

FCC President Florence de Changy led tributes to Egan, saying: “Kevin was one of these larger than life characters who would enter the Main Bar as he probably entered the Court room, with both panache and focus, always ready for a good argument and/or a nice drink.

“Kevin joined the Club in 1980 and served on the Board of Governors for 21 years on and off since 1993. Board Governors were all looking forward to working with him as second V-P and Secretary of the Club. The FCC will miss him very much and will remember him fondly.”

Born in Australia, the head of Baskerville Chambers joined the Bar in Queensland in 1972. He arrived in Hong Kong more than 35 years ago after serving as Director of Public Prosecutions in Papua New Guinea where he prosecuted justice minister Nahau Rooney for contempt.

Egan worked as a prosecutor in Hong Kong’s then Legal Department, serving as deputy principal Crown Counsel before being admitted to the Hong Kong Bar in 1990. He found himself in the dock shortly after, battling ICAC charges that he furnished corrupt ex-prosecutor Warwick Reid with a gun and aided his bolt from Hong Kong.

He emerged victorious, but again crossed swords with anti-corruption enforcers in 2006 when he was jailed for perverting the course of justice. In 2009, Hong Kong’s highest court quashed the conviction but only after he had served jail time. During his stint in Stanley Prison, Egan described being ‘put to work’ by inmates, drafting appeals with the aid of a photographic memory of Hong Kong ordinances.

Personal victories aside, Egan championed both glitterati and impecunious alike, adjusting his fees accordingly. After a hard day at the Bar he would take up residence at his second home, establishing himself as a life member of the FCC and a long-standing board member.

A canny raconteur, fellow board members remember him fondly for his pragmatic approach to Club politics. “He was one of my favorite board members,” says former FCC president Tom Mitchell, Beijing bureau chief for the Financial Times.

“I always trusted his gruff, no-nonsense legal advice, which was extremely valuable to the club. I also found him a great ally in my never-ending struggle to contain the board meetings to my usual 90-minute target. Like me, Kevin had no patience for the odd member of the board who greatly enjoyed the sound of his or her own voice and was happy to spend 2+ hours of their Saturday morning locked up in a board meeting.”

I have never met a Counsel so generous of heart. He would structure his fees depending on the client. He would say to me his father would say ‘one day it’s a lamb shank the next day a bone’. He would always take up a cause for an underdog.

Former President Tara Joseph commented: “Kevin will be sorely missed. I will always glance over at the back right hand corner of the Main Bar and look for him as he had such a steady presence there, surrounded by fellow barristers or watching the sports on TV.

“In the years I served on the board I took a special delight in seeing what T-shirt Kevin would rock up in to Saturday board meetings. On weekdays Kevin was usually in a characteristic conservative suit. On Saturdays she showed up in T-shirts advertising heavy metal rock bands. I think it cheered him up on a Saturday morning. Kevin loved the FCC. It was clearly a second home.”

Those who worked with Egan recall his Robin Hood approach to briefs. “I have never met a Counsel so generous of heart. He would structure his fees depending on the client. He would say to me his father would say ‘one day it’s a lamb shank the next day a bone’. He would always take up a cause for an underdog,” says solicitor Kevin Steel.

“His success rate at court was second to none when the bullets were fed to him by a well-prepared team. There are literally thousands of clients who have their liberty because of Kevin’s dedication to his craft and his hard-working ethic.

“To me he was as Senior as any counsel could be without the letters SC. Fearless in defending his clients, a challenge to a solicitor who would sometimes have to rein in the sheer exuberance.

He will be sorely missed by all of the legal community but his legacy is in the HK law reports. Just type in Kevin Egan and it’s plain to see.”

Egan’s former pupils remember him as a breath of fresh air in a rigid profession. Pupils who turned up on their first day in traditional barrister attire were instantly chastised for non-adherence to his dress code of obligatory jeans and T-shirt.

The barrister had a strict ‘KISS’ principle, his succinct style putting even the most nervous client at ease. “He was welcoming and helpful to his pupils and junior members of the Bar,” says former pupil Shaphan Marwah. “Kevin took pride in being a fearless advocate. He was feared and respected.”

Egan was horse racing enthusiast and keen shooter. When once asked by an Australian newspaper what kept him in Hong Kong, he replied: “The lifestyle, the money and to be honest, the tax regime.”

Former SCMP court reporter Charlotte Parsons noted: “No-one can ever accuse him of having a dull life. It is hard to imagine the FCC without him.”

A more in-depth tribute to Kevin Egan will appear in the October-December edition of The Correspondent. In the meantime, please send us your memories and anecdotes of Kevin – [email protected].

Kevin was a force to be reckoned with and the mere mention of his name would bring fear to his opponents in court. Some years ago I asked Kevin if he could represent me in a civil action against a Malaysian company. He agreed saying : “I don’t normally do civil cases, but I’m a bloody good litigator.” I instructed my solicitors to proceed with Kevin at the helm, but did not like my choice of a criminal lawyer. They notified the defence accordingly and they gave up immediately when hearing that Kevin was to be my representative. Such was the power of his name. Vale Kevin.

Mark Pinkstone

Kev did not normally take breakfast at the Club before going to court but he did on Monday, 12 June 2006. While he didn’t expect a guilty verdict from Judge Fung he told me he was prepared to have to play the long game. It turned out to be a little longer than expected – Kev had expected it would take 4 weeks for his bail and when I saw him in Stanley 6 weeks later he said it was all getting a little tedious. Whatever fears might have been running through his mind at that point, he was nothing but courageous and an example to us all of calm, fortitude and realism. He was no different when I saw him with Bonnie returning on the bus to Happy Valley from a visit to the Queen Mary Hospital only weeks before he died and I have no doubt he is resting in peace. God bless you, Kev.

John Brewer


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