Kate Webb, journalist friend of India, is dead
May 21, 2007 - 5:14:19 PM

New Delhi, May 21 - Kate Webb, one of the finest Western wire service journalists who loved India, has died - after 40 years in the profession during which she once got to read her own obituary.

Kate, as she was fondly called, won numerous friends in India during her stint as deputy chief of AFP's South Asia bureau here during the late 1980s and 1990s.

According to friends and former colleagues, Kate died of cancer May 13 in Australia, her adopted country and where she started off as a journalist in the early 1960s.

Kate became something of a legend in 1971 when she was taken prisoner by the Vietcong in Cambodia.

She was promptly presumed dead. The New York Times wrote a front-page obituary about her - which she got to read when she returned to work after being freed by the communists who had mistaken her for a spy.

A hard working journalist who never compromised on facts, Kate remained a warm and tender person, one always eager to help out the less privileged irrespective of their nationality or status.

In India, she made many friends, shared many cups of tea with her colleagues and was a frequent visitor to the Press Club of India.

Unlike many Western journalists, she had no air of superiority. She rarely spoke about her glorious past, letting her work do the talking.

If she did not have a notebook ready with her, she would furiously take down notes on any piece of paper that came handy - and that often was the silver foil of her cigarette packets.

Kate covered the Vietnam war, the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the strife in East Timor, the end of the Marcos era in the Philippines, the Gulf war, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and Hong Kong's handover to China.

Her stay here coincided with some tumultuous events including Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, the Indian military deployment in Sri Lanka and the rise of caste and religion in the nation's politics.

According to her published obituary, Kate was born in New Zealand in 1943 and moved to Australia when she was eight. Her parents died in a car crash when she was 18.

After studying philosophy at Melbourne University, she wanted to become an artist. Kate took to journalism after being forced to pay for a glass window she shattered while working on it.

She became a secretary on Sydney's Daily Mirror and soon became a cadet reporter.

At 23 she resigned, got a job as a freelancer for the United Press International and worked for the wire service for 13 years.

She spent 24 long years in Indochina - until the Americans fled Saigon.

She joined AFP in Jakarta in 1985 and remained with the news agency for 16 years, serving in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, South Korea and Afghanistan. She retired in 2001.

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