Marie Colvin ’78, a prolific foreign correspondent who covered war zones ranging from the Balkans to the Middle East for the past two decades, was killed Wednesday in a mortar strike while on assignment in Syria. She was 56.
A Yale Daily News Magazine staffer during her years at the University, Colvin took a job in journalism straight out of college and began reporting on war zones worldwide for Britain’s Sunday Times in 1985. Though Colvin braved numerous dangers while on assignment, those close to her said she felt compelled to tell the stories of the civilians most affected by war.
“She was appalled by war, appalled by what it did to children and the innocent bystanders that made up the population,” said Katrina Heron ’78, Colvin’s best friend and roommate in Silliman College. “Her work led her to do a lot of political reporting and political analysis, but she really wanted to focus on the lives of civilians who are torn by these conflicts.”
Colvin was “hell-bent” on entering journalism from the moment she graduated, said Bobby Shriver ’77 LAW ’81, one of her closest friends. She developed her interest in reporting while writing articles on Yale’s cultural scene for the News and long-form pieces for the Yale Daily News Magazine, her younger sister Cathleen said.
During her time at Yale, Colvin was known for her strong personality and quickly established herself as a “noise-maker” on campus, Shriver said.
“She was very noisy — not in a rude way, but like ‘I’m here, pay attention,’ ” Shriver said. “She wore a lot of all-black outfits, high heels, scarves, smoking thousands of cigarettes a day. She was a character.”
Colvin graduated Yale in 1978 with a B.A. in anthropology, and became a crime reporter for United Press International one year later. She was promoted to UPI Paris Bureau Chief in 1984, and spent a year in that position before beginning to work for the Sunday Times.
Despite the bombings and attacks that struck while she worked in the field — including a 2001 bomb blast in Sri Lanka that cost her the vision in her left eye — Colvin continued to cover wars “out of necessity,” Heron said.
But Heron said Colvin’s journeys into war-torn regions were not reckless. Colvin fully understood the danger of reporting in war zones, but took risks for journalism she thought were meaningful and necessary, Heron said. Cathleen added that her sister would occasionally report alone because she did not want to risk the lives of photographers or other journalists.
While reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Colvin spent time with families from both communities. Heron recalled that Colvin was taken aback by how similar the two peoples were on basic levels such as meal preparations, despite their ongoing conflict.
Colvin postponed her scheduled departure from Syria in order to continue reporting on local conflict and to file a dispatch Tuesday night, despite increasingly hostile conditions, Cathleen said. In that final broadcast, Colvin recounted visiting a hospital and watching a baby die from bomb-blast injuries.
Shriver said he felt the powerful description of that scene in Colvin’s last report was emblematic of her “toughness and sensitivity.”
“I will never forget that image,” Shriver added. “That baby’s legacy is part of Marie’s legacy. She gave her life so that baby would be a part of us.”
Though Colvin knew she would likely die in the field, Cathleen said her sister was “absolutely ferocious” and would not be held back by fear. Cathleen added that Colvin’s reports were often the only means she had of tracking her sister’s location.
Colvin’s younger brother, William, said he and Cathleen at times felt like their sister was invincible. Even as conflict in Syria escalated, William said he remained convinced that Colvin would survive.
“She wanted to get the truth out,” William said. “Unfortunately, that’s what led to her death, but she had nine lives — she was in the same situation dozens of times before this, and we were sure she’d get out.”
Lloyd Grove ’76, a former editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine who knew Colvin at Yale, said he believes her journalistic legacy will extend beyond her final dispatch. Colvin’s death will “throw a spotlight” on conflict in Syria, and may even inspire public support for the war-torn civilians on whom she reported, Grove said. She is “not going quietly,” he added.
Just as Colvin stretched the limits of her reporting, she also urged her peers not to fear taking risks or making mistakes.
“The point is that it doesn’t matter if you mess up, choose the wrong road, flop in Vegas,” she wrote in a reflection piece for the 1978 commencement issue of the News. “What’s important is to throw yourself in head first, to ‘go for the gusto.’ ”
Colvin is survived by her mother, four siblings, and 10 nieces and nephews.