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Remembering Bernard Estrade, a friend and AFP legend

Legendary Agence France-Presse correspondents Bernard Estrade died last week in Paris after a long illness. He was one of the great reporters of his era and a great friend of CPJ.

I got to know Bernard through his wife, Kathleen Hunt, an award-wining foreign correspondent who made the transition to policy and humanitarian work in recent years. Bernard and Kate made a dashing couple at the CPJ benefit dinner, and I always loved catching up with Bernard about the state of journalism (bad) and the state of the world (also bad).

Over the course of his 40-year career with AFP, Bernard covered the world's most important stories, from the Lebanese civil war to the collapse of the Soviet Union. French Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé paid tribute to Bernard on Friday, praising a career defined by "intellectual rigor, courage and professionalism."

Kate wrote to me on Saturday to let me know about Bernard's passing. "The greatest--albeit heartbreaking--honor was to be with him at the very end, holding his hand, and reassuring him that his brilliance, courage, and unflinching standards as a journalist--especially as a war reporter--would be carried forth by a younger generation," she wrote.

Our condolences go out to Kate, to Bernard's family, and to his many friends. If anyone who knew Bernard would like to contribute their memories, we invite to you post a comment to this blog.

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I remember meeting Bernard Estrade at the AFP bureau in Jakarta, and thinking he must have sprung straight out of a novel. He was every inch the dashing foreign correspondent — full of good stories and jokes, amplified by the most exquisitely expressive eyebrows. He was incredibly generous to CPJ, sharing sources and advice for a reporting trip to Aceh amid escalating violence there in 2000. He recalled our work during the violence surrounding the referendum in East Timor a year earlier, when he himself became a CPJ “case.”

On April 17, 1999, pro-Jakarta militias had led a rampage through the streets of Dili, killing at least 20 people. In one of the most serious attacks in the city that day, more than 100 militia members stormed the house of a prominent separatist leader and former member of parliament, Manuel José Carrascalao, and attacked nearly 150 refugees who had sought shelter there. Estrade was among a group of journalists caught in the attack. He was pushed, beaten, and threatened at gunpoint, while some militia members chanted that the journalists should be killed.

He and a colleague escaped to the relative safety of their hotel, only to be confronted by another group of militia members armed with sticks and iron bars. The group’s leader demanded that the journalists hand over their notes, tape recorders, and cameras. “Estrade refused,” according to the old CPJ case file, “and gave him his business card.” We do not know what combination of charm and fury Estrade deployed, but the militia men left the hotel without harming the journalists.

We first met in Nairobi in the late 1980s when I was Africa Editor for Reuters and Bernard steered me in the right (or left) direction. We both marveled at Kate churning out page after page for a New Yorker article on Uganda, not exactly wire service length.
He and Kate married in Nairobi, helped me pack up my cat when I left and we have been in touch ever since. I last saw him on February 26-27 in Paris. He asked how much he should tip me for helping him with his lunch ("Cent euros!" I replied and he grinned). While his death had been expected, it came all too soon for his friends and the immensely brave Kate. EL

See also the UN tribute: http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2011/db110318.doc.htm