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Alex McCallum remembered

Alex McCallum was a Reuters colleague of mine and a good friend of long standing. I suppose we must have met in the early 1960s, but we didn’t get to know each other socially until we both fetched up in New York later in the decade to work on a new financial wire called, initially, the Reuter Ultronic Report, later the Reuter Financial Report, to compete with the Dow Jones Broad Tape, following Reuters’ break with the Associated Press. 

Breaking the Dow Jones monopoly was a formidable task - some used the word “hopeless” at the time - but one that brought us both a great deal of professional satisfaction, he as its editor and me as a reporter. We worked hard at it, perhaps as hard as we had worked at anything in our lives until then, and probably since.  

He once paid me the compliment (undeserved) of calling me the best reporter he had ever met and I returned it by describing him (well deserved) as the best writer I had come across. He excelled in the editor’s chair, with a fine judgement of what was important in a story and what was dispensable - and no dangling participles ever escaped his eagle eye.   

We were both going through marital difficulties at the time, and found mutual solace of sorts - almost nightly I’m almost ashamed to admit - in a bar round the corner from the office called the Pig and Whistle (still there under a different name). There were other distractions, too, some of them too delicate to recall.  

Glen Renfrew, as the newly installed manager of North America, assigned Alex to come up with a blueprint for video-editing, a project of great complexity, and politically fraught. Alex was no technologist, but he had an instinctive grasp of what was required, to go with a sharp eye for detail, and the result was remarkable, a lasting testament to his skill.

He left Reuters soon afterwards for a public relations job - with Bankers Trust, if memory serves - which at the time I thought, from the jaundiced perspective of a scribbler, was a waste of his talent. I often wondered, and sometimes asked him, whether he had ever regretted the move, but Alex was polite to a fault, never one to court controversy, and all I ever got was a wry smile. I have always suspected that he did.

We kept in touch over the years, even when my own career proceeded without Reuters, and even after he had moved to the Boston area. He and I would later dream up an unlikely event - the staging of an annual cricket match, which was played on my extensive property in Greenwich, Connecticut, ostensibly between teams representing Reuters and Telerate, the company to which I had defected. He was as competent on the cricket square as he had once been on the rugby field, just missing out on a “blue” in both.   

He was by then married to Karen (Kate), who was, and is, a world-class player in the rather different game of bridge. She survives him, with his two sons, Rory and Jamie, from his first marriage, and Kate’s two daughters, Donna and Justine.

He was, in the time-honoured cliché, a gentleman as well as a scholar, and will be greatly missed by his many friends and acquaintances on both sides of the Atlantic. ■