Christopher Dickey was a giant among us. He accomplished five times what the normal driven world-watcher does. He’d produce a solidly researched, poetically composed book in the time it would take most of us to do a Sunday feature. But he was never too busy to spend an hour or two in the Tuileries over a glass of something admirable and some properly aged Conté. He was thrilled when those old Nokias evolved, enabling him to work his magic from a cafe table on the Champs-Elysees when he wasn’t poking into some distant mayhem.
Chris had that slow smile, which erupted into warm laughter no matter what was flying around. We shared a floor in Paris, Newsweek and AP, and I swear I often saw actual sparks of wit and wisdom bursting out of his corner office. He was the first guy I consulted when a book idea came up. He always had the perfect title and added new dimensions that hadn’t occurred. He knew it all, and he knew everyone; his sources were friends and vice versa, going back to the 1980s Nicaragua-El Salvador-and-environs days when America began to seriously lose the plot.
Chris was natural in khakis front of a TV camera or on stage in a blue three-button Brooks Brothers (they’ll probably remain bankrupt without him) enlivened with a Hermés silk tie. In Levi’s, he roamed Paris or Cairo snapping details and moods that most people never noticed. Some of us old-crocodile correspondent tiptoed into new tech; Chris was always a light year ahead. His pictures matched his words, which is saying a lot.
When I headed to North Africa or the Middle East and just about anywhere else, I filled a notebook with names and numbers of people who beamed on hearing his name. Sharing contacts is an old reporters’ ritual. With Chris, it was different. He quite literally opened doors: hermetically sealed façades hiding 1001 Arabian Nights splendor; banks of secretaries shielding presidents; gutsy local reporters in hiding. I thought I knew Rome until Chris introduced me to Barbie Nadeau, whose Daily Beast tribute to him is required reading for, well, anyone.
I had a chance to return the favor when Mobutu, whom I’d dogged since the 1960s, finally fell. We snagged seats on a jammed Air France seat to Kinshasa, but I couldn’t find him onboard. Chris was sipping champagne in First Class. (If any ex-Newsweek accounts come across this, he had, typically, found a deal.)
But I’ll miss Chris, the friend. He was at warmest and wittiest with his wonderful Carol, the perfect old-roadie’s partner. She knew he’d always find his story and come home, ebullient, to a plate of memorable pasta. Carol and I had a running joke about organizing a dinner on the Seine when our orbits might happen to coincide, like never.
The world, which now needs his reporting, analyses and humanity so badly, seems suddenly a whole lot emptier.
The OPC has posted more remembrances that you can read here.