SHE was in no doubt as to the “ultimate price” of her profession, but to put herself in harm’s way in order to write a first draft of history was no mere job for Marie Colvin. It was her duty.
A veteran foreign correspondent revered by her peers, her final days were devoted to the same pursuit that defined her career for the past quarter-century: alerting the world to unfolding human tragedy in some far-flung locale.
On this occasion, it was Homs, a leading focus of unrest in the 11-month uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. On Tuesday, she spoke to the BBC of the ghastly sights before her: “I watched a little baby die today. Absolutely horrific, just a two-year-old been hit, they stripped it and found the shrapnel had gone into the left chest. The doctor just said, ‘I can’t do anything’. His little tummy just kept heaving until he died. That is happening over and over and over.”
Ms Colvin, 55, from Oyster Bay, New York, was an anthropology graduate of Yale University. Over the course of her career, she reported on conflicts around the world, and was instantly recognisable by the black eyepatch she began wearing after losing an eye to shrapnel while based in the rebel-held north of Sri Lanka during the civil war in 2001.
Her journalism was an up-close-and-personal account of mankind’s darkest side and took her to the front line in the likes of Iraq, Eritrea and Afghanistan.
Often, she traversed routes used by smugglers to reach her destination, despite the danger.
In the Balkans, she went on patrol with the Kosovo Liberation Army as it engaged Serb military forces. She worked in Chechnya, where she came under fire from Russian jets while reporting on Chechen rebels. She also covered the conflict in East Timor after its people voted for independence.
After losing an eye in Sri Lanka, Ms Colvin promised not to “hang up my flak jacket” and kept reporting on the world’s most troubled places.
“So, was I stupid? Stupid I would feel writing a column about the dinner party I went to last night,” she wrote in a Sunday Times piece after the attack. “Equally, I’d rather be in that middle ground between a desk job and getting shot, no offence to desk jobs.
“The next war I cover, I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London.”
Her recent reporting focused on countries caught up in the uprisings of the Arab Spring, among them Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. She was one of the few reporters to interview ousted Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi in his final days.
Ms Colvin, who had been married three times, was outspoken in her defence of independent journalism, and a fervent advocate for the cause of unfettered war reporting.
During a tribute service for slain journalists at Fleet Street’s St Bride’s Church in November 2010, she offered a stirring appeal to media executives to continue investing in such reporting, and spoke of the role of the foreign correspondent.
“Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice,” she said. “We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?
“Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price.”