We lost Ron Moreau in the spring of 1991. He had gone to Iraqi Kurdistan for Newsweek to cover the panicked flight of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes to the high harsh ice of the mountains on the Turkish border, where they hoped to escape the savagery of Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of Desert Storm. And then, Ron had gone incommunicado.
Finally, one morning he called Newsweek’s Paris office from a pay phone in a fly-blown town on the Turkish border and dictated from his notebook the cover story for that week’s magazine, which demanded to know why George H. W. Bush didn’t care about these people and their suffering. In fact, Ron made the world care.
Today we learned that we lost Ron again, but this time there is no coming back. He died in his sleep at a Houston hospital on Tuesday night, with his wife and daughter, Lac and Linh Anh, at his bedside, after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis and a lung transplant last year that didn’t work out.
Ron was one of the last great foreign correspondents of a great generation. And Ron was that even rarer phenomenon, a real gentleman. As a colleague he was unfailingly gracious sharing his time, information, contacts and experience. His generous spirit was and remains unforgettable.
Ron first joined Newsweek in 1972 at the height of the Vietnam War and impressed just about everyone who worked with him. Ron, who was only 27 at the time, had been a conscientious objector. He had learned Vietnamese while performing alternative military service in the Mekong Delta. (He was born in Los Angeles and educated at U.C. Berkeley. His father called him “the best educated hippie in the country.”)
“In my heart Ron remains the friendly and youthful figure older colleagues turned to in Saigon for insights, because of his uncommon knowledge of the language and the lives of the Vietnamese poor in the countryside,” says Jean-Marc Illouz, a veteran French television correspondent.
Even the often vindictive and capricious Pakistani intelligence officers came to respect Moreau’s integrity.
After the fall of Saigon and the unification of Vietnam, Ron moved on to cover other conflicts in the Middle East and Latin America, but was always drawn back to Southeast Asia where he served for years as Newsweek’s Bangkok bureau chief.
For much of the last decade Ron was based in Pakistan for Newsweek and then for The Daily Beast, often collaborating with Sami Yousafzai to produce prize-winning coverage of Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
“It has been a great pleasure and honor for me to work with Ron for such a long time,” Sami wrote this afternoon from Pakistan. “He was so nice, calm and kind, and his journalistic understanding was wonderful.” Even the often vindictive and capricious Pakistani intelligence officers came to respect Moreau’s integrity.
“Ron loved working in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” says Sami. “I remember once in 2006 we were in Ghazni and we talked to a Taliban commander on the phone, who told us we should come talk to him in person. We said, not if he was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle. He said, ok, no AK-47. So when we got to the meeting about noon, the Taliban commander was waiting for us and his men were carrying RPGs [rocket propelled grenades]. I told the commander, ‘My colleague, Ron, told his wife he wouldn’t go any place risky. You’re not supposed to have any guns.’ The commander said, ‘this is an RPG, not an AK-47.’ Ron and I laughed all the way back to Kabul.”
“Ron was in love with Afghan green tea and every night and morning we sat together drinking full pots of it. He was like a university for me when he talked about journalism,” says Sami.
The last piece Ron and Sami teamed up on, in December, warned that Pakistan and Afghanistan had released waves of Taliban prisoners in a goodwill gesture—but instead of returning home, the radicals were rejoining the fight.
By then, Ron was engaged in his own battle against a debilitating disease that cut off the air he breathed and sapped him of energy. His son, Dan, wrote to friends of his last days and hours:
“Ron wanted to pass, and it is our belief that he wanted to leave us and end his suffering. He did so quietly without wanting to burden his family any longer. He was a committed son, father, husband and journalist….
“Ron was happiest when he was writing and reporting and traveling, and his disease unfortunately took that away from him,” wrote his son. “Per his final wishes, Ron will be cremated and his remains will be transferred to the Vietnamese Buddhist Center in Sugar Land, Texas.”