September 23, 2023

NEW YORK (AP) – Marcus Eliasson, an international journalist whose sharp reporting, sparkling prose and deft editing graced Associated Press news for nearly half a century, has died. It was 75.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he developed pneumonia earlier this week in a nursing home and died Friday in a New York hospital, his family said.

From Israel and the 1967 Six Day War to apartheid-era South Africa and the battlefields of Afghanistan, bloody Belfast, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the handover of Hong Kong and countless other dates and stories, Eliason saw and reported some of the major world events of the last decades of the 20th century. And as that century drew to a close, it was the Eliason touch that welcomed the new one.

“From East to West and North to South, the world welcomed the new millennium in a glittering tapestry of song and light that rippled across the globe,” led the AP’s Jan. 1, 2000 editorial.

By then he had moved on to his final post, from which he retired in 2014, as the New York-based editor of some of AP’s biggest stories and features — and finally as editor-in-chief for international feature stories, a valuable guiding hand for dozens of AP reporters around the world.

“A classic AP guy is gone,” said former AP president and CEO Louis D. Boccardi. “Even a quick glance at the outline of his missions, both abroad and here at home, says it all. If there was a difficult mission that needed a steady hand, Marcus was often the choice.”

“Marcus was a wonderful writer and editor, erudite, wise and supportive,” said former AP International editor John Daniszewski, now AP vice president and standards editor. Observed Claude Erbsen, longtime AP correspondent and world executive: “He could make words sing and dance.”

Jack Marcus Eliason was born on October 19, 1946 to Jewish immigrant parents from Europe and grew up in Bulawayo, Rhodesia. At age 20, after a brief apprenticeship at The Jerusalem Post in Israel, Eliason joined the AP’s Tel Aviv bureau as a messenger and trainee “puncher,” or operator of the Telex machine used to transmit stories.

A month later, on June 6, 1967, the Arab-Israeli conflict known as the Six-Day War broke out. When the new hire arrived at work and was chastised for not rushing in sooner, he said he had to buy emergency groceries for his mother, dig a bomb shelter in the backyard, pick up stranded hitchhikers, and so on.

“Don’t stand there talking about it, kid,” growled an old hand. “Make a note of it.”

He did, launching a distinguished career in news and was promoted to staff reporter a year later. Once asked how he learned to write so well, he replied: “By punching the large copy of reporters at the AP office in Tel Aviv.”

During the 1970s, the Eliason byline topped some of the biggest stories from the Middle East: terrorist attacks and Israeli government turmoil, another Arab-Israeli war, Anwar Sadat’s historic 1977 visit to Jerusalem.

“Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt, had landed in Israel on a peacekeeping mission. The time was 19:59, Saturday November 19,” he said. “For the Israelis, and no doubt for the Egyptians, it was more amazing than Neil Armstrong’s foot touching the moon.”

In 1978, Eliason was assigned to the AP’s Paris bureau, where, among many other assignments, he covered the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as he led, from afar, the Islamic revolution in Iran.

After a stint back in Israel, Eliason transferred to London, where he became a news editor. His insightful reporting and masterful prose set him apart in one of AP’s top “writing desks,” whether covering the bloodshed of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland or poking fun at British eccentrics like “the world’s worst poet,” William McGonagall .

“Scotland is proud of its poets and no city is without its statue to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott or Robert Louis Stevenson,” wrote Eliason from Dundee. “But mention The Great McGonagall in his hometown and the reactions range from tender laughter to pained silence.”

He then returned to Israel, this time as bureau chief, heading a staff of award-winning reporters and photojournalists in the 1990s, overseeing a steady flow of news on the Palestinian uprisings, the faltering Arab-Israeli peace talks, Israeli political battles and the Scud missile attacks from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. From there, he moved on to his last international assignment, to Hong Kong, where he covered the British colony’s 1997 handover to Chinese control, writing all the while.

Throughout the decades, the AP has also tapped the talents of the tall, suave Israeli with the South African accent — a high school graduate whose voracious reading and store of knowledge often amazes his colleagues — for temporary assignments in some of the most hot spots of the world, in some of the most important stories of the time.

He reported from Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion of that country in 1979 and from his native South Africa during the worst of the anti-apartheid unrest. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the AP sent Eliason to travel along the former Iron Curtain border to interview ordinary citizens and write an in-depth report on the meaning of this epic chapter in 20th century history. century.

In 1997, he left Hong Kong for the AP’s headquarters in New York and a job as editor for articles from around the world, a recognized teacher who became a mentor of understanding for a group of younger foreign correspondents, from Beijing to Berlin to Buenos Ares.

“He was one of those journalism heroes I had as a young writer — these exciting, impossible contours,” said one of those correspondents, Ted Anthony, now the AP’s director of new storytelling and newsroom innovation. “Then he became the best editor I ever had, an amazing combination of encourager and enforcer. And a dear friend.”

When he retired after 47 uninterrupted years with the AP, Eliason remarked that “I’m a guy who’s worked all his life. No companionship, no sabbaticals, no parental leaves. I was very excited about it.”

As he left his office for the last time, he heard the huge AP New York newsroom erupt in applause. “It was a kind, spontaneous gesture that reminded me once again how lucky I was,” he later wrote. Said Boccardi: “It was the AP that got lucky.”

Eliason is survived by his wife, Eva, a daughter, Avital, and a son, David.


Charles J. Hanley was a writer and editor for The Associated Press from 1968 to 2011.

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